SELMA – It was cold enough to see your breath at Staley Stadium on Nov. 13, but Selma High’s Marching Band and Color Guard didn’t seem to notice.
It was the final Community Night performance where Selma High’s Marching Band would have one last public rehearsal before heading to the annual Western Band Association competition that wraps up the field show season.
Poor air quality caused the WBA competition to be cancelled but the band will now head into their concert season where the winter percussion and winter guard will be showcased.
Band Director Alexander Lima intermittently stopped rehearsals that night as he other section leaders gave the musicians feedback. Their theme this year is “Goodbye” and is reflective not only of life, but of the band’s journey as they part with old uniforms and the decades-old Staley Stadium that the school district is about to rebuild.
“All of us go through it in some point in life. It’s something we’ve noticed the kids go through,” Lima said. “We also felt that the music worked for the ensemble and age group we have. It’s something that made sense and the audience and band students could grasp onto and really perform on an emotional level and instead of just a musical level.”
Unless the students continue music in college, competing with Selma High’s Black Bear Brigade will likely be the last time they perform in such a large group. They may not grow up to be music majors, music teachers or professional musicians, but they will learn what it means to honor a commitment and persevere, Lima said.
“These kids are in it because they enjoy doing this and it’s a passion of theirs. It’s freezing cold today and it could be drizzling, but these kids will still be out here rehearsing.”
Lima has long-term goals in mind for the band that’s grown from 60 students the year prior to nearly 90 this year. He credits co-director Regina Jimenez for her work at Abraham Lincoln Middle School for helping guide their instruction as the music students step into the high school program.
“She helps transition the kids and she’s instrumental in telling me what the needs are of the incoming students so we can better prepare for that following year.”
Between the after-school and Saturday practices, Lima estimates band students put in at least 14 hours on top of class time, competitions and performing at other school functions.
They’re fresh from competing at the Kingsburg Classic in the 3A Division where they took third by a healthy margin.
“We wind up competing in a division above where we should be. It’s a much harder [competition] because those bands produce more sound. When I compared our score against the class where we should have been competing, we would have taken first place by a very large margin.”
Lima said it’s typical of their competitions to be lengthy as they require travel, unpacking, competing, repacking and then waiting for trophies to be awarded. Recently, their California State University, Fresno, trip required them to perform at noon and by the time awards were announced, they wound up leaving around 11 p.m.
“From the moment the bus pulls in to the moment we finish our powwow at the end of the performance, the kids are in ‘go’ mode. It’s go, go, go.”
This year, Noelle Marroquin is the head drum major for field shows and Adriana Rubio is the head drum major for parades. The assistant drum major is Ari Matias.
Marroquin was directing from atop the field podium during the Community Night show. During a break, she said their performances take not only musical ability and physical stamina, but also a mindset of concentration.
“If you’re not focused and don’t have the mind for complex thinking, you’re not going to last out on that field. It takes a certain kind of person to be in marching band. They have to be hard working, independent as well as willing to work with others around them. You have to be in tuned with things happening outside your own head.”
The band’s section leaders were quick to point out areas where the students needed to improve their musicianship or choreography.
“It’s important we have that type of criticism because any little thing we can make better is really going to show out on the field,” Marroquin said.
Meanwhile, Color Guard instructor Esperanza Tovar was busy overseeing her group’s performance as they transitioned from using flags, sabers and wooden rifles during the three segments of the show.
“Each movement we do has a different version of how you’re going to say ‘good-bye,’” she said. Tovar’s entering her 10th year with the Selma High Color Guard and said they’ve grown to have 19 members this year.
“When it’s smaller, you’re able to see things more, but with more students your eyes are all over the place trying to fix the errors.”
Many of the color guard members are award-winners Tovar’s been training since middle school. She’s impressed that every year they “come back stronger and wanting to be better. It helps the program rise because they see how good the veterans are so everyone has to step up to the plate and be as good as they are in a short amount of time.”
Since the marching band has more members than they have uniforms, they’re wearing all-black outfits for now. They have a design in mind for new uniforms and a fundraising plan in place. Lima estimates it will cost $85,000 to purchase 160 uniforms. They’re buying more to have enough for the band as it continues to grow, he said.
Now, it’s just a matter of executing their upcoming mattress fundraising project. Lima said other schools have risen from $25,000 to $40,000 in a single day from such events. Signs will be posted and mailers sent out to alert the public when that fundraiser starts. Currently, they’re also selling candy bars. Donations to the program are also welcomed.
Running a band program is an expensive endeavor, Lima said. He estimates it costs around $35,000 to $45,000 to have a functioning and competitive band. More high-end bands have budgets in the hundreds of thousands, he said.
“We’re getting to that point where we use three trailers. We’re almost ready for a semi-truck. One of those would cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000 for all the bells and whistles.”
Between the students’ fundraising, the Band Boosters contributions and funds the band receives from the school district, Lima said he’s grateful for what they do have and is looking for that extra push of support to move the band forward.
“I could 100 percent not do this without the Boosters’ and the kids’ efforts. They are very absolutely vital. With all the improvements we’re making and the hard work the students are putting in, we hope the community will rally around and help us make the band what it can be. There’s no reason these kids can’t roll into championships and place and compete at the national level.”
Lima said he’s also grateful for support such as the donation from the Selma Health Care District that allowed them to replace corroded instruments and buy lighter drums that were more ergonomically correct.
“Our old [drums] were literally falling apart and were a danger. During a rehearsal one time, the drum fell off because the harness fell apart. It was time.”
As a teacher, Lima said it’s still that ‘a-ha’ moment that makes all of effort behind running the Black Bear Brigade worthwhile.
“After telling the kids something and working with them, you say something and all of a sudden it clicks. You see them light up and they got it. It’s a personal victory for you as a teacher and a victory for them. It’s a very good feeling and that’s what gets me up in the morning.”