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After weeks of preparation, Mustangs, Rebels eager to march into new seasons
echs band
Effingham County trumpet play Nate Dickey, left, and Austin Brant perform during an Aug. 8 rehearsal of the Rebel Regiment's 2017 halftime.

After spending several weeks getting into shape, working on fundamentals, developing timing and memorizing formations just like their football counterparts, the Effingham County and South Effingham high school bands are eager to start their seasons.

South Effingham County has been practicing for Friday’s debut at the Erk Russell Classic at Statesboro’s Paulson Stadium since July 13. The marching Mustangs will perform at halftime of a 5 p.m. football game against Tift County.

Effingham County started prepping for Friday’s 8 p.m. Erk Russell Classic game against Coffee on July 17.

The concept for Effingham County’s halftime show originated even earlier. It materialized in March after director Matthew Leff and his assistants tossed around several ideas. They reached an accord on a “Gotham” theme that will feature songs about New York, London and Metropolis — Superman’s town.

“When people hear ‘Gotham,’ they make think it is a Batman show,” said Leff, in his ninth year in charge of the Rebel Regiment. “It’s not a Batman show, though. It’s the idea of a super city.

“We try to find something that will be entertaining for the Friday night crowd but will also compete well because we are a competitive band.”

The Effingham County and South Effingham bands participate in multiple events where they are judged on the musical and visual aspects of their performances. Effingham County will host the 37th Coastal Classic on Oct. 14. The classic typically features 12-20 bands.

In April, South Effingham band director Sean McBride and his assistants developed a “spaghetti western” theme for their band’s 2017 show.

“In the story, we start with a sheriff at a wedding. He is marrying his bride,” said McBride, in his 13th year in charge of the marching Mustangs. “In a little bit, a bandit will come out and rob the wedding. There will be some kind of aggression and then there will be a chase and, unfortunately, our sheriff, the bandit will get the best of him and the sheriff will depart us.

“After that happens, the bride will go on the hunt for him. That’s what the rest of the show is about.”

The Mustangs’ show will culuminate with a saloon showdown between the bride and the bandit. McBride said the story will likely have a different, surprising conclusion by the season’s final game.

“Adding a few things to the show and tweaking it a little bit every week keeps the kids interested,” McBride said.

Leff said choreographing a show that is likely to score well with judges at competitions and keep football fans energized is like walking a tightrope. The bands only have nine minutes for their halftime performances. They will have 15 minutes in competition, paving the way for more elaborate field entrances and exits.

“You want to be innovative and progressive in the music, but you don’t want to lose that fan base,” he said. “Some school in some areas have gone to this extreme progressive model of show that features tunes you wouldn’t even recognize. It leaves the fans wondering what is happening.

“We want to push the envelope so we can compete well, but our biggest mission is keeping our crowd happy on Friday and give them something fun to listen to.”

It took a lot of work for the local performers — 192 at Effingham County and about 150 at South Effingham — to get to this point. It started at band camp in July.

“The first couple of days, it’s actually just the leadership of the band that comes in — and the drummers and the color guard,” Leff said. “The whole crew came in on the 19th, and all we did those first couple of days was conditioning.

“We call it ‘basics.’”

“Basics” is exactly what the term indicates, Leff said.

“I don't want to oversimplify it, but we have to define how we stand, how we move our feet, how we move forward, how we move backward and how we move side to side,” Leff said. “All we do those first couple of days is march up and down that field in a straight line.”

“Basics” sessions generally last three hours, including occasional water breaks. The sessions start at 8 a.m.

After lunch, the bands return to their respective schools to learn the music in their performances. Then, after a supper break, they return at 7 p.m. for a couple of hours to fuse marching with the music.

“It’s a 13-hour day for us,” Leff said. “It’s a long day.”

South Effingham conducted a similar two-week band camp whose importance can’t be overstated. Practice time as a group is limited once school starts.

“We practice twice a week as a full band for two and half hours each day,” McBride said. “We have sectionals on Mondays for a couple of hours, but that’s not everybody every week. It’s more individualized.”

Leff said the bands’ performances would lag considerably without camps, which are supported by school administrators and parent volunteers.

“For us, the reality of it is that —for two weeks — we have the kids focused on nothing but band,” he said. “If we don’t get a good chunk accomplished in those first two weeks, it’s trouble when school starts. We saw that (on the first day of school) because the kids didn’t have quite the same focus because they were focused on math class and English class, and the other 1,600 kids who go to this school.

“We have to have a good band camp to have a good season.”