August 14, 2002
Two-a-day practices. Push-ups. Sit-ups. Box stepping. This certainly isn't your father's band camp.
With nearly three weeks to go before classes resume, about 20 incoming freshman arrived on campus last Wednesday at Herndon High School to begin practicing their drills, learning their music and finding their way around campus. On Monday, three intense 10-hour days later, this group of freshmen joined the rest of their extended family, all 120 of them.
The annual Herndon High band camp kicked off last week with a three-day boot camp for the squad's youngest members. Led by a high-energy group of upper classmen, and under the watchful eye of Band Director Richard Bergman and Associate Director Chris Cunningham, freshmen band members tooted their horns, banged their drums and blew their tubas around the school's empty parking lot from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and again from 5-9 p.m.
"We bring the freshman in early this week to learn the basics. We teach them how to move in straight lines and how to be aware of people around them," said Cunningham. "When you are marching in a show with 100 people, you have to be aware of what you are doing and what your neighbors are doing."
Dealing with the stress of starting high school can be tortuous enough; these 20 students also must learn nearly 60 pages of choreographed steps and music. "Understanding exactly what we are doing and understanding exactly how the whole thing comes together will be the biggest hurdle for the young guys," said Bergman, who is beginning his 25th year at the helm of Fairfax County's third largest marching band.
"The summer camp is crucial to the success of the band," Bergman said. "The summer is what brings the whole band together. Eighty percent of what we do in marching band we learn over the course of these three weeks."
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE for the freshman may be overcoming the intimidation factor of joining an established and award-winning group. "They can all come in here and do what we teach them, but before that in June and July when they are really nervous, and nervous about high school in general," Cunningham said. "This freshman camp helps with that. Learning to play music and move their feet at the same time is not easy."
Senior Steve Brady, 17, the squad's assistant horn line captain, knows from expereince what the freshman went through on Monday and he knows how important they are to the team. "I just remember this raw feeling of total and complete incomprehension," said Brady. "You have no idea what is about to happen and when you see the senior kids do something, and do it perfectly, it just blows your mind. I just remember thinking, 'Man, that would be so cool if I could do that, and eventually you do, do it. And yes, it is still feels very cool.'"
Dan Maguire agrees. A junior, Maguire is only the second drum major in school history chosen as sophomore. It is Maguire's responsibility to make sure the band stays in tempo. "This is my most fun time of year," he said. "Meeting the new freshman and imparting our knowledge on them. When I was a freshman, I really looked up to the upperclassmen. I know where they are coming from."
Justin Dottin, a 14-year-old freshman, has been playing the alto sax for six years and his older sister, Tamara, is a junior on the Herndon marching band. Yet, despite all this, Dottin admitted there were still some nerves on Monday morning. Dottin said he learned a lot during the freshman week, but his favorite part was the three-hour break at 2 each afternoon. "Last week was tough," he said. "Standing on my toes in the hot sun is not easy."
Dottin said his parents convinced him to try out for the band. They said it would instill self-confidence and discipline. For a freshman in high school, self-confidence is important but so is summer vacation. "Yes, I was a bit jealous of some of my friends," Dottin said. "I even had to turn down an offer to go to the beach last week because of camp."
Maguire sympathizes with Dottin's plight but like his younger band mate, he too, has made sacrifices. "Sure I could be at the beach," the blond-locked Maguire said. "But when push comes to shove, I would always be here."
DESPITE THE CODE RED heat advisories, two-a-day practice schedule and "tons of memorizing," Dottin insisted he is, nonetheless, excited about being a member of the team.
"Just the routine of coming here for three and a half weeks and giving up part of their summer just establishes a tremendous work ethic for these guys," Cunningham, 27, said. "It's a group activity and no one sits on the bench. We need everyone and every person is critical to the team. It's a family. These kids will have some of their best friends in life for life."
Tim Adams said the freshman members were in for a "rude awakening" when they joined the full squad on Monday. Adams should know. The 26-year-old George Mason graduate graduated from Herndon High in 1994 and was a former horn line captain for the marching band under Bergman. He has been coming back ever since. Adams works for a lobbying and consulting firm in D.C., but he still returns to his alma mater to work with the band.
"We are a family. That is the best characterization," Maguire, the drum major said. "This is especially the case during this two weeks when we don't hardly get to see our own families."
Many of the band members come from a marching band background. Others like Nashmia Malik were attracted to the family-like atmosphere Bergman has created at Herndon. Fresh off her first full-squad practice, the freshman-to-be was ecstatic, albeit a bit tired. The 14-year-old flautist said it was great to be part of a team. "I really liked the first week, it was great. I know have made friends for life and the section leaders were great, they really helped ease the transition."
"I think they will be completely intimidated but I think this freshman class is really going to step up and make some of the upper classman step up to the plate and join them," Adams predicted on Friday. "This [freshman] class is hardworking and dedicated and really ready to take on some people."
Adams says the instructors and veteran students are teaching the freshman more than just marching. "We are also instilling in them the values of teamwork, strength and self-confidence. Oh yeah, and rhythm," Adams said, shortly after leading the freshman in calisthenics and an early morning synchronized dance party that looked like a cross between the Electric Slide and Jazzercize. "You'd think for musicians they would have more rhythm than they do," he said, laughing. "That will come, too."