For about six hours on Saturday, the gymnasium at McLean High School became a stage for performances winter color guards from high school bands from Northern Virginia and beyond.
On Jan. 31, more than 25 “winter guard” groups competed before friends, family, and five judges who were parsing their performances to come up with an overall score based on their presentation, fundamentals, and ensemble performance.
Known among students as “winter guard,” the competition has grown more popular and more complex in the last 30 years, said Eduardo Martinez, one of the staff instructors for McLean’s eight-member performance group.
“It’s a fusion,” Martinez said. “The origins go back to VFW military honor guards. Around the 1970s, people started to add more texture to their presentations.
“They would dip the flag, spin it around, and then they tried to toss it.
“It has gone from a paramilitary honor guard presentation format to a marching band drill with the manipulation of equipment,” he said.
Now, guard units still use sabres, guns, and flags as props, but they perform to many different kinds of music in addition to military or marching band music.
Their routines include elements that suggest military precision, the liquidity of modern dance, the drama of theater, and the enthusiasm of cheerleaders.
“It is very much a hybrid,” Martinez said. McLean’s performance includes elements of drama, dance, military, and drill team routines.
All kinds of people take part: color guards combine so many elements that everyone contributes something different.
“It is becoming more common, for guys to take part,” said Martinez.
“They might be interested in throwing a rifle around, but the dance can be intimidating [to boys]. It can be a challenge to start learning movement.”
McLean’s demonstration performance was inspired by “I’m Thinking Over,” a song by Dana Glover that describes the process of learning to make decisions.
“It is about making choices as we grow up,” Martinez said.
The judges watching from the stands score the groups on general effect, ensemble analysis, and equipment handling.
Their routines must be completed in eight minutes, and an ensemble can be penalized with points if they don’t transition quickly enough as they move their equipment in and out of the gymnasium.
The large tarps that each group spreads over the gym floor are more colorful, becoming a prop for the performance.
But they must be spread and removed quickly, or a timing penalty ensues.
Martinez said more than 100 guard units exist in McLean’s area, from the Baltimore suburbs to the coastal Carolinas.
McLean’s first competition will take place in Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day, with a regional competition scheduled the following week in Nashville.
The color guard also performs during half-time at every home football game in the fall.
To pay for travel and equipment, as well as activities by the jazz and symphonic bands, McLean’s band boosters are selling chances on a new car, a bright red mini-Cooper that will be given away in May.
Band parents and boosters are selling chances for $25 each, or four for $100.
McLean High School and the McLean High School Band Parents Association hosted the Atlantic Indoor Association, Indoor Percussion & Winter Guard Competition, sponsored by Maley's McLean Music .