As a small freshman girl in the male-dominated, 40-player strong, rowdy trumpet section, one would assume that I would be swept under the carpet, looked over, and not bothered with. This was furthest from the truth. My freshman friends and I were immediately looked after and made to feel right at home with the rest of the section through shared bonding experiences such as nine-hour band camps in the sweltering summer heat.
Over the course of my first year in competition marching band, I learned how to work hard and work together with 300 of my closest friends toward a common goal: Grand Nationals in Indianapolis. This competition for our band was the biggest event of the year, the acme of the three months of blood, sweat, and tears that we had put into the show that we were to perform. As a freshman and someone who had not previously attended this competition, I had no idea of the experience I was about to have.
The competition works like this: The whole band is bused up to Indy, with all of our gear (instruments, uniforms, flags, luggage) and we perform the next day with 100 other bands. The top 30 bands, regardless of class, get to perform again in the semifinals. For Dobyns-Bennett, this is not a major challenge; however, we still try as hard as we can to get the highest score possible.
Next is finals. This is incredibly difficult to achieve because only 12 of the original 100 bands make it in, and before my freshman year the Dobyns-Bennett band had never placed into finals. This changed my first time going to Indy, and it truly changed my life. To see these seniors who had worked so hard every year in their high school career, just to come up a few points short every time, finally achieve this goal was amazing. It showed me that when true dedication and hard work are put into conquering a challenge, one can and will achieve it. The underclassmen around me saw this too, and we were determined to continue their legacy.
Over the next two years, the band craved a higher placement and a higher score in Grand Nationals, so we worked harder and harder. We had harder music, harder marching moves, and even bigger and crazier props. Through these two years, my trumpet section continued to form into a tighter knit family that would do almost anything for each other, and we became better players and marchers because of that. The hard work paid off, the band getting sixth place my sophomore year and achieving Class AAA national champions my junior year.
And because of our musical and marching abilities that we displayed on the field, my junior year we were invited to the 2020 Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California. Because the Dobyns-Bennett band has attended this parade multiple times, some people think it is just “our time to go again.” This is truly just not the case. The bands selected to march in the Rose Bowl are few and far between, and there are some who will never get the opportunity to do it. So this is a massive honor, one that I am very excited about.
The question we all asked when hearing the news that we had been invited was, “What about Grand Nationals? Will we be able to go?” The flat, blunt answer: No. The cost of flying the whole band to California and the cost of going to Indy in the same year is just too much. So my senior year — the year that was supposed to be the pinnacle of my band career — the band will not go to Indianapolis and compete.
If I am being honest, yes, I was bummed out at first. But then I thought of the opportunities that would be waiting for me at the Rose Bowl Parade. When I really thought about it, not going to one competition, but instead going to a highly prestigious, nationally recognized parade my senior year was truly the pinnacle I was wanting to achieve.
I also got the opportunity to change my role in the band from a strong trumpet player to a drum major, who is one of the top student leaders in the band. One of the biggest challenges that we as drum majors face this band season is the lowered motivation; the band as a whole has to work even if they aren’t going to Indy.
This has been difficult to overcome because for so long Grand Nationals was the goal, the thing we were preached to about every grueling practice. Now that’s gone, replaced with a parade (which we are just as excited about) and new goals to achieve. But we have learned what it takes to motivate the band every practice into giving their all. Having this change in goals has helped the band in a way, too. Instead of working hard to achieve a trophy or a title, we are working hard for the sake of excellence, which in my eyes is more important and can be transferred throughout my life and outside of band.
In the end, the band this year plans to succeed at the smaller competitions we attend and kick butt at the Rose Bowl Parade. So if you are watching it on TV this New Year’s Eve, look out for the Dobyns-Bennett band!
Kristin Thorneloe, a Dobyns-Bennett High School senior, is spending time in the Times News newsroom this semester as part of a work-based learning program.