The Beechwood Independent Marching Tigers clinched the Kentucky Music Educators Association State Marching Band Championships on Saturday. Now the band will need to prepare for the Music for All’s Bands of America Grand National Championship in Indianapolis on Nov. 9.
“It’s about as an athletic show you’ll ever see from a high school band,” said Beechwood’s Director of Bands Austin Bralley.
Saturday’s performances earned the band victory in the music educators association’s AA hybrid division, which is based on both school size and band size. Bralley said the band has about 80 members this year, including prop crews.
“People don’t realize that when you’re constantly marching and playing for like eight minutes straight, towards the end your lungs start to give out, start to get more tired and your tone just kind of drops a bit,” said freshman trumpet player Issac McGlasson.
The difficulties are worth it, though, said McGlasson and other students in the band.
This year’s show theme is “Escapades” and features a variety of composers and genres. The opening song in the show was, in fact, originally an electronic song by Norwegian DJ Todd Terje called “Alfonso Muskedunder.” Many of the show’s props and color motifs borrow from Terje’s album artwork, Bralley said.
The band later moves into a rendition of “Miserlou,” a traditional folk song that has been sampled and adapted numerous times over the years–Bralley pointed out that many people recognize it as the opening track for the movie Pulp Fiction.
The main piece of the show’s second movement is “Danzón No. 2,” an orchestral piece by Mexican composer Arturo Márquez.
The show’s ballad, finally, is a version of “California Dreamin’.”
“We kind of based our version on José Feliciano’s version,” Bralley said. “A lot of our music had kind of a Latin feel to it.”
“In years past, we’ve tried to tell a story,” Bralley said. “… We didn’t really have a story this year. It was just each movement had its own cool color scheme, cool piece of artwork, cool music, and it all just kind of fit together.”
Beechwood successfully secured their spot for state championships two weeks ago in a regional competition. On Saturday, they competed in the semi-final competition at Warren East High School in Bowling Green. After qualifying for finals, they performed again at Western Kentucky University.
“We always sing through our show on our way to competitions,” said senior snare drummer Kaelen Perkins. “So within the last, like, ten minutes or so, we make sure everyone’s focused, awoken, everything like that. We sing through the show, get our mindset ready. So when we get off the bus and do what we got to do, then we’re ready to go, engaged and ready for a great performance.”
This isn’t the first time Beechwood won in their class at state championships. Not including this year, the band has made 23 appearances at state championships and has walked away with the victory trophy at ten of them.
Now, the band needs to prepare for national championships on Nov. 9 in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. Although the national tournament is administered through Music for All, a different organization than the Kentucky Music Educators Association–the organization that manages the state-level events–, that doesn’t mean the competition isn’t steep.
“There are roughly 100 bands who go and compete from all over the country,” Bralley said. “Usually, 20 to 25 states are represented.”
Beechwood has won nationals twice: once in 2006 and another in 2011.
“It’s been a few years,” Bralley said, but that doesn’t mean Beechwood’s been resting on its laurels. They placed second in the national competition last year and third in 2019 and 2017.
Aubrie Martin, a senior in the color guard, said that the indoor stadium in Indianapolis can make things easier since the band doesn’t need to worry about the elements. If anything, Martin said, the high stakes of the day help motivate them.
“We like thrive off of the crowds’ energy,” Martin said. “And there’s always so many people there.”
“If we make semi finals–we’ll perform at the end of semi-finals, and there will probably be between 18[,000] to 25,000 people,” Bralley said.
“I like the performance aspect of it,” Martin said. “Personally, I’ve been doing [color guard] for six years, and I’ve grown really close to the people that I perform with… We’re together constantly. I’m with them more than my family most of the time.”
“I like the family part of it,” said McGlasson. “This is my first year in the marching band and within like a week of me joining, I had like a entirely new family, new friends and everything.”
“I just really like playing my trumpet with others, not going to lie,” said Logan Suter, a senior trumpet player who serves as one of the show’s soloists. “On my own, not so much, but with an actual band, I love playing it.”
“It’s just a really rewarding feeling to be able to receive accolades…,” said Perkins, “because then you feel like you’ve done something that really, really matters and that has affected other people, including yourself, and the people you grew close with.”
Watch a video of the band’s performance from Saturday below.
Correction: A previous version of the story contained wording that misrepresented the structure of state and national-level marching competitions. It also contained some misspellings. We apologize for this error, and the relevant lines have been amended. –LINK nky editorial, Nov. 1, 2023.