WENATCHEE — Rain and snow have cooled things down in North Central Washington the past few days, but it’s not likely to douse the fire crackling from the Wenatchee High School Golden Apple Band.
The marching band will perform its final practice from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday on the high school football field before the start of its competition season Saturday in Kennewick. Band members and parents are hoping for a good audience to send the band off on another award-winning season.
Theme of this year’s performance is “Wildfire.” The original score was based on Igor Stravinsky’s stirring 1910 ballet and concert piece, “The Firebird.” But the inspiration was last year’s lightning-caused Wenatchee Complex fires that threatened hundreds of homes and left the valley in a shroud of smoke for nearly all of last September. Last year’s band had to practice in the school gym because the smoke was too intense to safely play instruments outdoors. But the band still won 26 awards including two sweepstakes awards in five major statewide competitions, said Tim Zanol, assistant band director. They hope to do even better this year.
“When fires were going this summer, we thought we might have to practice inside again,” Zanol said. He said this year’s feature performance is a tribute to all who were affected, evacuated and worked on last year’s fire.
Choreography begins with band members moving in chopping and shoveling movements to symbolize the work of hundreds of firefighters. The thunderous, seven-minute performance will include color guard members waving banners to symbolize lightning flashes and, for the first time in the band’s history, five large mobile background panels painted to signify the fire and valley’s surrounding foothills and mountains.
“We’ve been wanting to add a visual element for several years, but always held off. This year we’re going to try it,” said Jim Kovach, WHS music teacher and band director.
Band parents designed and painted the backdrops. Several local businesses donated paints, pipes, lumber and other supplies to build the props that resemble painted canvas sails that are pulled onto the field on five wagons. A group of about 10 parents put in dozens of hours of work to build the props, said Maryann Coleman, spokeswoman for the group. Students say they wouldn’t be able to achieve what they do without the support and assistance of their parents.
But it’s the nearly 100 members of the band and color guard who deserve all the credit for the show, Coleman said.
“They work really hard. It’s a year-long commitment,” said Coleman, whose son, Chase, is a sophomore alto saxophone player.
Band members started practicing for this year’s performance at band camp in August, said Jeanna Stillman. Her son, Drew, is a senior tuba player in the band. Members give up two weeks of their summer vacation to practice eight hours a day, five days a week for two weeks. Once school begins, they attend practice two or three hours a night, twice a week. Travel to competitions makes for 15 hour days on weekends.
Practices can be grueling. Kovach watches and directs choreography and music tempo from a scaffold high above the field, barking out direction and telling the band to repeat sequences again and again until they get it right.
“For every 30 seconds on field, it take hours of practice,” said Zanol. “I’m amazed that they can remember all this stuff.”
No one knows better than Madison Kovach, the band director’s daughter. She’s a senior drum major in charge of keeping band members in line and on time. In many ways, she’s her father’s right hand on the field.
“It is hard work, but it’s also fun. Winning awards is what drives us and that takes a lot of practice,” she said.