SCHENECTADY Three years ago, Megan Battibulli called Schenectady High School in search of a color guard.
She was moving from Georgia, where she had performed with a marching band for years. Her one question for her new school: did it have anything similar?
Luckily for her, school officials had started planning to reinstate Schenectady’s marching band. She became one of the first members.
Fast forward three years, and the band has already won numerous awards. And then the band was chosen to represent all of New York in this year’s national Fourth of July parade in Washington, D.C.
They’ve done it despite several changes in leadership, an entire band without experience at choreographed moves while playing, and uniforms dating back to the last time Schenectady had a marching band — in 1988.
But their musicality has overcome those weaknesses. The students all come from Schenectady’s strong music program, usually with many years of experience at their chosen instrument. They’ve already played in front of audiences, learned complex music, mastered playing as a group.
But there was something different about marching band, they said.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Battibulli, 18. “Especially during the solos.”
The crowd at football games will chant the soloists’ names — something unheard of in traditional concert halls.
The crowd also hollers and whistles, cheers and applauds. It’s not just polite clapping.
“You get the feeling: ‘I’m doing something awesome,’ ” Battibulli said.
In April, the band’s brass section and the jazz band won gold — the top honor — at a competition. Last year, the entire band placed ninth in the state field band conference.
“In the first couple years, we’re already making great progress,” said trumpet player Sam Veglia, 16.
He likes the field band competitions better than the performances at football games, even though the local performances get an enthusiastic response from their fellow students.
“I like the field band conferences more because it’s ‘our’ game,” he said.
The crowd is there to watch the band, not a football team.
But he added that there’s one game as good as a competition between dueling bands.
“Homecoming is awesome,” he said.
He has played the trumpet for years, and joined the marching band mainly to stretch his skills.
“It was just another area to explore musically,” he said.
Trombone player Ian Farmer, 17, said he, too, initially joined for love of playing. But he’s stayed for the camaraderie.
“The travel is a lot of fun,” he said. “Being on the bus with everybody. And the pride you have after you win an award!”
Now they’re preparing for the Washington, D.C., parade, but they have to worry about more than just the music.
First, there’s the uniforms. The band now has 60 members, which is important for choreography and music, but it’s a huge increase from a band that was founded with just 40 members. There aren’t enough uniforms now.
“We’re piecing things together just to get the kids to Washington,” said new band director Krista Hawk.
They also had to raise $42,000 for the trip. They’re still $7,000 short of their goal, with just five weeks to go.
They’re raffling off a big-screen TV and a quilt at their Pops Concert on June 10 at Schenectady High School.
They’ve run seven fundraisers while practicing and performing all year. They might have to keep it up next year — buying new uniforms would cost about $35,000, Hawk estimated.
“As the program is growing, and growing so quickly, we’ll need to something in the next year or two,” she said.
The Fourth of July parade will be aired on TV around the country, but local television listings have not yet been published. The parade begins at 11:30 a.m. and runs until 2 p.m. The bands march in alphabetic order by state, so Schenectady will be near the end.