Marching to their own beat in Glen Ridge

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The opening of Glen Ridge High School for in-person classes was delayed to late October because of HVAC upgrades amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so the GRHS marching band has been using the school as “a big closet,” according to director Darren Gage. Their instruments and equipment are being stored in the gym, ready to be pulled out for daily practices behind the building. GRHS’ cheerleaders are the only other students who have been to the school since March. It is different putting on a halftime show during a pandemic, but the Ridgers say the virus hasn’t changed the season as much as they thought it would.

“I thought it would be a lot different, but it’s not,” junior Anna Sullivan, the drum major, said in an interview with The Glen Ridge Paper on Oct. 10. “We’re not in school in person, so I’m happy we get to do this.”

The 2020 show is a marching band version of “Peter and the Wolf,” Sergei Prokofiev’s symphony for children. A seven-minute consolidation of the orchestral work, the show is a swing in the opposite direction from last year’s The Who–themed show.

“We’re doing probably the most famous classical piece that has narration,” Gage, who is in his 30th year of directing the band, said on Oct. 10. “We’ve managed to squeeze most of the themes in. I tend to alternate between classical and jazz and pop. It’s a dramatic shift, but it keeps everyone on their toes.”

Zach Stolte is the narrator, telling the story while roaming around the field and sideline. The senior said that, aside from having to social distance and wear masks, things aren’t that different.

“We had a lot of schedule changes early on,” Stolte said. “But outside of that, it’s been pretty standard.”

Glen Ridge is still performing during halftime at home football games, and they’re even still competing, albeit virtually. Not able to travel to competitions, high school bands across the country are filming their shows and sending them off to be judged. Awards ceremonies are broadcast for bands to receive their scores. At the first competition of the year, GRHS placed sixth in their division, with a score of 77.5.

“It’s pretty cool, because we’re competing against bands from Minnesota and other places,” Gage said. “Normally, we see a band from Maryland and we think, ‘Wow, that’s so exotic!’ This is exciting, because we’ve never done this before.”

Filming a performance for a competition presented its own set of challenges, though Glen Ridge did get the chance to do a second take. The whole band wasn’t able to fit into the shot, meaning they had to shift the sideline back and adjust their field positions. Gage is sure other bands will have stranger setups as the season goes on.

The fact they’re able to perform at all is a win. When school buildings closed in March and classes shifted online, students went months on end without seeing their friends and teammates. The rules and restrictions are worth it, according to Sullivan.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t been in school, but having band still happen is great,” she said. “Otherwise we would be so bored. It’s nice that we get to spend time together.”

Avery Eaton, a junior and the band’s percussion captain, agreed.

“It feels like we’re not in virtual school, because we’re here every day,” she said. “We’re still able to do something. We’re all good friends, and we know we have to be safe together so we can still be together.”

The young people aren’t the only ones who are happy to be back on the field. Gage and the rest of the staff are just as excited about it, regardless of having to wear masks.

“I would check a thousand temperatures and fill out a thousand questionnaires if it means we can be here in person,” he said. “It relieved months’ worth of tension. This has put it in perspective. You realize it’s not about the score they get. That’s never been what marching band was about. Even if we never went to a competition again, we would still want to get together. That’s a nice feeling.”

Photos Courtesy of Julie Stolte