The sweetest experience

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Paul Taylor)

Years of hard work paid off for the T.C. Williams marching band as they trekked to New Orleans for a halftime show performance at the Sugar Bowl on January 2.

T.C. Williams was one of 14 high school bands to perform during the matchup between Oklahoma and Alabama — and the only group from Virginia. The trip required more than a year of planning, practicing and fundraising, said T.C. band director Carlos Gonzalez.

Although the group generally takes an annual trip to compete with other marching bands, Gonzalez described going to the Sugar Bowl as a unique experience for his budding performers.

“That essentially caused the kids to have an extended season; we had to keep practices going into December,” he said. “[And] then we got an entirely new show to learn with the mass band, doing the Beatles medley at the halftime show finale.”

Along with the halftime performance, the T.C. band finished second place in a competition during their four-day trip. But Gonzalez said it wasn’t all work in New Orleans.

Students learned first-hand about the world of music in Louisiana, something that can’t happen in a classroom.

“The amount of jazz and impromptu and spontaneous music available to them was inspiring,” Gonzalez said. “Students often learn music in a very formal classroom setting, with sheet music and the like. It was refreshing for them to see people literally just start jamming with people they didn’t know, playing music for music’s sake.”

And the students are still brimming with excitement about the trip, a week later. Junior clarinet player Julia Wagner already was considering a career as a school band teacher, but the trip opened up her mind to other musical opportunities.

“It was really inspiring,” she said. “To see all of the street musicians opened up my mind with what I could do with a music major, even just playing on the street. It was just so cool and added much more onto the trip.”

Markell Bonds, a junior who plays the tenor drum, learned a lot during the trip, especially from students at other schools.

“After watching the other bands and seeing how dedicated the other people were really makes you want to continue with music after high school,” Bonds said.

Gonzalez wanted the trip to provide his students with a big payoff for their years of practice and work.

“The reason I thought this trip was so important was to recognize and reward these students,” he said. “They’ve worked so hard since picking up the instrument in fourth or fifth grade.

“The marching band does so much to pump up the school and the football team in the fall, and here was an opportunity to really showcase them just for them.”

Drum major Brenna Lancour, a senior euphonium player, said the Sugar Bowl trip was bittersweet.

“It was a really weird, surreal experience,” she said. “The whole time I’m thinking, ‘This is so cool,’ but at the same time, this is the last time I’m going to be with the band, so there was a mixture of emotions the whole time.”

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