After two months of practice, only 53 minutes of warmup separated the Bishop Dwenger Marching Saints from their season-defining 6-minute show.
The band was ready for Dwenger’s first ISSMA competition in three years. They gathered between the Dwenger bus and band trailer in a Homestead High School parking lot, ready to wind around the school and to the field.
Jordan Stevens, a color guard instructor, handed out lanterns that guard members would need to present “Journey to Her Wings.” Second-year band director Don Cochran offered just a little more encouragement. Two Homestead band-parent volunteers led the staff and 48 musicians and guard members to Warmup Area A, for 14 minutes of practice without music. “No sound. No sound,” Cochran reminded the band.
As the band practiced their steps, band volunteer George Gallacher told of his attachment to the program. “This is a new beginning,” Gallacher said. As with many band parents, Gallacher’s children outgrew the program but Gallacher did not. His youngest daughter last marched for Dwenger in 2004. But there he was, yet again, pulling instruments and driving the band trailer. “I volunteer for the love of the program,” he said. “I didn’t have much of a niche in life when I was younger. And this is my niche, as a present to the kids. I’d love to see 75 or 80 kids, just like in the old days.”
Stevens guided the guard as they limbered up and then walked their patterns. The 16 guard members gathered around her. “Keep smiling. You girls are gonna do great today,” she said. “Remember the eyebrows.”
Then on to another warmup area, this time with music.
Parent coordinator Brian Dumford towed a generator, just in case the power connection wasn’t working. He had been happy to assist when Dwenger restored its marching band this season. “When I put out the call for parent volunteers, I was very happy with the great turnout we got,” he said.
The band played and marched, and Cochran gave just a little more encouragement.
Dumford watched the Indiana State School Music Association timing judge, who held up a sign showing 5 minutes left in rehearsal. Dumford gave the thumbs-up to the judge, and took the news to Cochran.
The group gathered in tight formation one more time. Cochran encouraged them again. Then all was silence. The Sign of the Cross. The Lord’s Prayer. The Sign of the Cross again.
“Let’s have fun,” Cochran told his charges.
They waited for the North Side band to pass them into a separate rehearsal area. Then the Dwenger band followed the Homestead volunteers past the Freshman Center and toward the field where New Haven’s band was just wrapping up its show and Chesterton’s was staging in the end zone.
They lined up yet again and they waited yet again. Then more volunteers ushered them toward the end zone. Cochran gave a thumbs-up. Then he gave more encouragement. Then parents pushed instruments along the sidelines and guard members and musicians took the field. The announcer gave the charge for ISSMA Scholastic Class A performance.
The show unfolded, the story of a young fairy being following the path to earn her wings. Kate Toenges sang “Kaleidoscope of Mathematics” and “All Love Can Be.”
Parents hurriedly pulled carts of equipment from the field within the 13-minute time limit. Musicians marched past a table laden with Silver Award trophies and the coveted Gold Award trophies that signify a trip to the Scholastic Class State Finals. Six more bands would perform over the next 90 minutes before the Saints knew which trophy they had earned.
They all waited in the parking lot, again, between the band bus and the band trailer.
David Dowling, a Dwenger senior and one of only three Saints who remembered the last ISSMA competition three years before, smiled as he spoke of the band program.
Dowling, who enters the field on a motorized chair, plays the drum set. It’s not easy. “I just kind of make it work,” he said. This marks his fourth year in band, his fifth with the indoor drum line.
“It’s been really good for me in having a sense of belonging,” he said.
He also smiled as he spoke of this year’s program in particular and of the showing at ISSMA. He hoped for a Silver Award, but couldn’t dismiss thoughts of a Gold Award.
“Oh, that would mean the world,” he said. “But honestly, I don’t really care too much about placement. It’s more like family. Growing up I never got to experience being part of a group, and that is what the band has been to me.”
Cochran was nearby, with staff. The work was done and the awards countdown had begun. The Fort Wayne native had taken the Dwenger position in the fall of 2016. The program had missed one marching band season and would have to miss another. Cochran found other ways to reinvigorate the program.
“We performed at [University of] Saint Francis at a football game and then before a DCI show and then we got to perform at the Soundsport championship and we actually won that,” he said. “But that was designed differently. Last year’s band only had a few horns in it.
“This year we’ve put together a full marching season. We wanted to give the kids the full experience from the beginning. We started out on Aug. 12 and we’re going all the way through Nov. 4. They get the full feel of it.”
The students are getting exposure, he said. “It’s not a matter of trying to beat one band or another band. We’re out there in competition with ourselves,” he said. “We started out with a couple participation awards and we bumped up to a couple Bronze awards, and Bronze or higher will be a success at this point.”
For Dwenger to advance to the ISSMA State Finals on Oct. 21, the band would need a Gold rating at the Homestead show.
First place in Scholastic Class A or B marching band is good for an invitation to march just for show at the Open Class State Finals on Nov. 4. Cochran and Dwenger had made other plans for that day. The Marching Saints are booked at the Mid-States Band Association Class A Championships in Norwood, Ohio.
Cochran and the Saints knew going into the ISSMA Preliminaries that Bronze would be good, Silver would be great, and Gold was a goal for another season. The Saints took Silver, as did four other other, experienced Class B bands. Six bands earned Gold, with the likes of Northrop, North Side and Snider setting the bar rather high.
“I’ve been telling the kids that for them and this group it’s not the trophy that they bring home that they’re going to learn from,” Cochran said. “The journey to get there is where they’re going to find their reward.”