By Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
In a season that has been anything but normal, the Woodruff High School Marching Cadets have never broken stride.
The cadets, Woodruff High School’s marching band and constant fixture at football games, have played their hearts out during this season’s limited home games, though under a much different format than those Friday night veterans of Varner Stadium are used to seeing.
Brian Grant, who is in his sixth year as band director at Woodruff High School, is grateful that his talented group of musicians are able to show off their talents, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
“This biggest difference for us has been not knowing when our season will end or could end,” said Grant. “We could turn around tomorrow and they cancel the rest of the football games.”
This year’s team of marching cadets are certainly appreciative of the opportunity to play in front of a limited number of fans at home football games. With social distancing protocols in place, the band has been moved from the home stands to individual chairs spaced six feet apart adjacent to the field house and locker room areas.
There has, however, been greater cost associated with the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Given the nature of what it takes to play certainly instruments, in particular within the horn section, the risk of spreading the virus was deemed too great to have a statewide marching band competition season.
“We would normally have five home football games and five band competitions per season, so right there is a guaranteed 10 performances a year,” Grant said. “We have lost the majority of those performances. To keep these students motivated to practice and play up to their best is a little tricky, especially when they know they aren’t competing against anyone and are only playing at a handful of football games. I have explained to them that training for the next competitive season, hopefully next year, starts now.”
Grant need not worry about his young musicians, however. The Woodruff High Marching Cadets have not missed a beat and understand the difficult circumstances facing them. For these young men and ladies, they are simply happy to be performing for their fans, even if on a limited basis.
“For the seniors it means they can still have a show,” said Caitlyn Thacker, a sophomore member of the marching cadets’ color guard. “At one point last year we were just sitting in the band room and Mr. Grant was like, what if I said the game was cancelled or the rest of the competition season is cancelled? It was a really awkward moment and we didn’t have any idea then that it could really happen. We are just really thankful.”
For those fans who have been able to attend home football games, they have witnessed a brilliant show put on by the marching cadets that has a feel-good theme during such a bleak time for many across the country. If music is meant to uplift a person’s spirit, the 2020 Woodruff High Marching Cadets have accomplished their goal.
Drum Major Shane Smith, a junior and five-year marching band member, explained the show.
“Once the competition season got cancelled, we moved into a different show,” explained Smith. “We are doing music by Billy Joel and I am just grateful we get to perform. When I heard competitions were cancelled, I was thinking football games were going to be cancelled too.”
Grant noted that this year’s show was put together on short notice, written a mere two weeks before what would have been the start of band camp by himself and assistant band director Jonathan Gilstrap, but with the knowledge that this year would be anything but normal.
“Billy Joel can be difficult to compete with for sure,” he said. “This wouldn’t be a show we may roll out for a competition season, but it’s fun and energetic and there aren’t a lot of layers to develop. It has turned out to be pretty decent.”
The show consists of several well-known Billy Joel hits including an opening piece from ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ before launching into Joel’s world-wide hit ‘Piano Man’ featuring band member Jackson West on the keys. The show continues with an original Billy Joel instrumental piano piece called ‘Air (Dublinesque)’, also featuring West.
“I feel like some of the younger (band members) don’t really know too much about Billy Joel but they like the music,” Smith said. “It’s likeable and I think the fans have enjoyed it.”
Grant said that once circumstances return to normal, hopefully by next season, the band has already been working hard on a show for when competitions can resume and hints that Woodruff fans and marching band supporters have a lot to look forward to.
“We were in limbo over the summer and didn’t know if we would be competing or not so we fully developed a very competitive show, aiming for that top five finish, and we have that show sitting in there on the shelf ready to go.”
In the now, the beat goes on and so does the passion and pride of the Woodruff High School Marching Cadets.
“I think we really appreciate our opportunities so much more now,” said Thacker. “It’s been tough but we keeping pushing through.”