Glen Ridge HS marching band is eager to return to competition

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge High School marching band members sweat through a hot few days of band camp last week, getting ready for a 2021 season that will look a little more normal after the COVID-19 pandemic changed the operations of all team activities last fall. The 2021 show, “Caravan: A Journey Through Big Band Jazz,” will debut at the first home football game of the year at Hurrell Field on Sept. 18, and then the band is off and running to its full competition schedule.

“Everyone is experiencing something new this year,” senior drum major Eryka Duckett said in an interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Aug. 27. “All the people who were new last year didn’t experience a lot. The sophomores haven’t been to a competition yet, so it’s been a big adjustment.”

The band was still able to perform last year, but home football game crowds were the biggest their audience ever got. Competitions went virtual, with bands filming their performances and sending them off to be scored. It created opportunities to be more visually creative, but the atmosphere of being among the other bands and seeing them perform was gone.

“It really makes the season,” Anna Sullivan, a senior and the band’s other drum major, said in an interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Aug. 27. “It’s really fun to be in the stands and hear your band called and your scores announced. People don’t really go to football games to see the band, but at competitions they do.”

Things are slowly inching back to normal, but that doesn’t mean lessons from the adjusted 2020 season won’t carry over. Director Darren Gage has changed his approach to arranging music and designing the show.

“I’ve always thought of marching band as a form of musical theater, so that’s how I design,” Gage said in an interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Aug. 27. “Now I think of movies, which is different. We were thinking more cinematically. You can make the audience act like the camera and see different things happening in different places. I never realized how cinematic it was.”

The music chosen for this year matches excitement surrounding the upcoming season; Gage usually rotates through classical, popular and jazz themes year to year. After “Peter and the Wolf” in 2020 scratched the classical itch, it was time to swing.

“We tried to choose recognizable big-band jazz,” Gage said. “Within a couple of seconds, people will say, ‘Oh, I know that.’ The opening and closing songs are both by Japanese female composers, because I wanted more women representation…. When I’m arranging, I’m going to arrange more by them. Women and composers of color are underrepresented, so this is a good place to start.”

Though the band still got to have a season last year, band members are excited for this fall.

“I was expecting everyone’s morale to be boosted,” Sullivan said. “We don’t have to wear masks outside, and the pandemic is less of a looming threat than last year. We have things that we can work for.”

The heat at camp didn’t dampen anyone’s mood, according to Duckett. If anything, a week of nonstop music buoyed their spirits.

“The mood is a lot more positive than it has been before,” she said. “Everyone wants to be here.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic of the marching band learning the 2021 routine during band camp at GRHS on Aug. 27