After a long competition at Towson University, members of the Chesapeake High School marching band returned to Pasadena as Maryland state champions on October 26.
Chesapeake participated in three competitions within the Maryland Marching Band Association 1A class and was undefeated within the circuit. This success placed them as the No. 1 seed going into the competition and set an expectation for excellence.
“My staff and I made sure to impress upon the kids that nothing is a guarantee,” said Clayton Michalec, Chesapeake’s band and orchestra director. “They had to undeniably do their performance and earn their first-place spot.”
During the awards, judges started from the 10th-place spot and worked their way up. With each place called, the tension built. After the second-place team was called, students knew they had won first place.
“When I heard the announcer say that we won, I jumped out of my seat, and I could feel the bleachers shake because everyone else had jumped up too, and we all just started screaming,” said junior Leanna Brady.
Michalec said, “My favorite moment was when they called first place and the stadium erupted, and you could look down on the field to my four kids who were collecting the awards and they were crying. It is a memory I will take with me the rest of my life, and I’m sure the kids will as well.”
Seniors Ben McKee, Skye Farley, Serena Zheng and Elizabeth Phebus were in shock as they collected the first-place award.
“I didn’t know what to think. My mind was all over the place because I was so excited,” said McKee.
Chesapeake also walked away with awards for Best Percussion, Best Color Guard, Best Visual Performance, Best Music, and Best Overall Effect.
The bands were judged on how well they marched, their form, choreography, full ensemble music, and field music, where the judge took samples of individual students playing during the performance. Judges also considered the way the music and choreography portrayed the narrative behind the performance. Chesapeake won all of the subcategories with a score of 88.3.
The performance entitled “The Darkness Within” tackled an important theme that Michalec said needed to be shared.
“The whole premise of the show is the critical inner voice, which is a physiological concept that explains that we all have an inner dialogue that tries to tell us we aren’t good enough, or smart enough, or that we don’t belong,” said Michalec. “The whole show takes us on this journey of the critical inner voice, and ultimately ends with the statement ‘I am enough.’”
The show took on a challenging narrative, and in keeping with that theme, the music and choreography were equally as challenging.
“The staff and I created an important and innovative show this year; we took some risks,” explained Michalec.
This show also featured a narration track that told a story as the students performed. Michalec was assisted in directing by Jason Welsh, drill design and visual caption head; Danielle Miller, drumline instructor; Gilbert Rupp, front ensemble instructor; Sharelle Langaigne, color guard coach and CHS alum; Cara Westphal, color guard tech and CHS alum; and Alix Gilbert, student-teacher from the University of Maryland.
Michalec and the band staff hold students to high standards. Being a member of the band is both a time commitment and tedious.
“We make sure that everyone moves and plays the same way, making sure we all have the exact same note length, phrase shape, that we are in tune, all while running around the field in a heavy uniform to get the production going,” said Michalec.
Rehearsals for the 2019 season began at the end of last school year and carried over into the summer. Students participated in a one-week, 60-hour band camp and three additional “mini camps” before the school year began.
In addition to the Saturday competitions, the band also plays at home football games, in the hallways before home games to increase school spirit, and most members are also involved in jazz, concert, and string ensembles outside of marching.
Though it is a lot of work, these students are committed to the band and, more importantly, to one another.
“The kids are awesome, they’re goofy, they’re quirky, and they’re fun,” said Michalec. “They keep me on my toes, and I’ve got a lot of love for them. It truly is a pleasure to come and work with them every day.”
From bus rides to eating lunch in the band room, students have found a place where they feel free to be themselves.
“I love the fact that we have a family outside our actual family,” said Farley. “Everyone here cares, and we love each other.”
In keeping with the theme of the show, Michalec has built an environment that makes students feel respected and valued.
“Mr. Michalec is the most kind, understanding and encouraging director I could ask for,” said Brady. “I can definitely say that I appreciate everything he does, and I am so grateful he is my teacher, and I'm sure the rest of the band feels the same way.”
On November 23, the Chesapeake Band Boosters are hosting their annual fall craft fair to raise money for traveling expenses, uniforms and more. This event also allows the band program to pay the band staff, who Michalec credits with making the organization possible. If you have not had the opportunity to support the band this season, this is your chance.
Chesapeake’s season officially ends on November 9 after two more regional competitions, and they are already looking toward next year.
“For next year, I want to pick up where we left off,” said Michalec. “Even with graduating nine seniors, we want to really make sure we continue to put on a quality production and encourage these kids that they can do it and we believe in them. We think we can do it again with hard work and dedication.”