Whether marching on a field or performing on a stage, Chantilly High's bands have had a superb season.
"The kids are awesome," said Band Director Keith Taylor. "And the band parents are so supportive and outrageously great — they're fun to be around."
NOW CHANTILLY'S preparing for the District Festival, Friday-Saturday, March 11-12, at Madison High. About a dozen high schools will participate, and a lot is riding on it.
Said Associate Band Director Alan Johnson: "If Chantilly gets a superior rating, that — coupled with our superior rating in the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Festival [in October] — will make us a Virginia State Honor Band for the fifth year in a row."
"It's truly the best group of students I've ever gotten a chance to work with," he said. "They give selflessly for the good of the band, and it's a pleasure to work with them."
More than 200 students are in Chantilly's band program — composed of nine groups, including 150 in the marching band and about 75 each in the Symphonic Winds and Concert Band. They've all performed exceptionally well this school year, said Taylor, starting with the marching band which, he said, "has enjoyed an incredible amount of success."
The awards began shortly after school started in the fall. Besides winning the AAAA division, on Sept. 18 at Herndon High, Chantilly won the grand championship at the Virginia Showcase of Bands. Some 19 bands total participated.
The division contest was judged on music and visual appearance. "One of the best things about competition is that it motivates the kids to do better for themselves — which makes the group do better," said Taylor. "Each student's success inspires others to succeed."
"Marching band is unique in that there's no second string — they're all starters," he explained. "Every part is important. For the music to sound good, each part has to be executed perfectly."
Taylor, himself a 1980 Chantilly grad and band director there since the late 1980s, said the band students have also shown tremendous leadership. "They're sincere and genuine and have great respect for each other," he said.
"AND IT trains a work ethic that'll set them up for life," he continued. "The discipline, the rigor — you have to be there, show up." As a result, said Taylor, "We didn't lose a competition in the State of Virginia."
In addition to performing at Charger football games and in the school's homecoming parade, the marching band participated in the Bands of America event, Oct. 9, in Rutgers University stadium in New Jersey. Chantilly came in ninth out of 35 bands and made finals — which was its goal.
"It was a tough competition because there were so many very good bands there from up and down the East Coast, with sophisticated drills and show designs," said Taylor. "It was a wonderful learning experience."
The next week, Oct. 16, Chantilly's marching band was one of 50 participating in the Parade of Champions at JMU. Most of the bands were from Virginia, and Chantilly came in first — dazzling the others with outstanding music and fancy footwork.
This time, Chantilly was the band with the sophisticated show design — meaning its patterns, the degree of difficulty in the music and drills, and the artistic compilation of its whole performance. Said Taylor: "What they played and how they did it made them stand out at that show."
Then came the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association State Marching Festival, Oct. 30, in Gloucester, Va. Some 30 bands participated and, said Taylor, "You work for your best performance to get the highest rating — No. 1 — in various categories." Chantilly got a No. 1 from every judge and, said Johnson, "We've now gotten superior ratings [in that event] for seven years straight."
As if that weren't enough, that same night, at Kecoughtan High in Hampton, Va., Chantilly's marching band took on about 20 other bands and went home as grand champion. "The Senior Class was so emotional that night, it really touched me," said Taylor. "It was their last marching band competition, and they love what they do and do it so well that they hated to give it up."
Moreover, he said, "In addition to the great marching band season, they played a beautiful sendoff concert, Nov. 15-16, at the school." They performed it prior to the Virginia Music Educators Association Concert on Nov. 19.
"What was so unique about this sendoff concert was that the music I selected demanded that they play different levels of music very well," explained Taylor. "And these students showed such maturity playing it."
THEY ALSO performed a number along with some 125 Chantilly choral members. It was called "Russian Christmas Music" and had been rearranged for band and chorus. And the choral students sang it in Russian.
"It was awesome," said Taylor. "When we finished the last note, people leapt to their feet and clapped for two minutes. I was very proud — and incredibly tired." That's because, besides teaching and directing the band, he was also taking classes two nights a week to get his masters in conducting at GMU. And this spring, he'll complete it.
Next came the big concert, Nov. 19 — one of the highlights of the state music convention, Nov. 18-20, in Norfolk. Some 200 different events are offered there — even clinics on new technologies and teaching strategies, the latest research and what other musical groups, including choirs, are doing.
"Every music teacher in Virginia is invited, and a large portion of them show up," said Taylor. They represented all grade levels — including college, public and private schools — plus professionals and community band members.
And when it came time for the concert, Chantilly's Symphonic Winds — part of the marching band — knocked the socks off everyone. The students again performed "Russian Christmas Music" with the chorus and truly wowed the audience.
Afterward, said Taylor, "We received letters from colleagues, the composer, professional peers and officers from state music associations about how great it was — and it was." What makes it even more significant, he said, is that "the students were gearing up for this performance while the marching band season was taking place."
WHEN THE students play to their potential, it pleases the band-director side of him. When they learn something new, the teacher in him beams. "I love both things," said Taylor. "And after their [Nov. 19] performance, I loved every one of them simultaneously."
Band students practice eight hours a week after school, plus at least 40 minutes a night at home. And on the heels of their big concert in Norfolk, the Chantilly musicians presented their Tiny Tots concert for the community — followed by their Holiday Spectacular concert, Dec. 9-10.
"I'm just always amazed at how they keep getting better and better, how hard they work and the time they put in," said Chantilly Music Booster Vice President Nancy Lepore. Her daughter Joanne plays flute in the marching band, piccolo in concert band and chimes and other instruments in the drumline.
"No matter what group they are, I'm always proud whenever I watch them perform," said Lepore. "They're wonderful, wonderful kids. They make us all proud."
At the District Festival, March 11-12, the Symphonic Winds will perform the finale to Dmitri Shostakovich's "Fifth Symphony" and Joseph Schwantner's "From a Dark Millennium." And the following weekend, March 18-19, Chantilly will host its 20th annual Invitational Jazz Festival.
BUT THAT'S not all. "We're also in the middle of indoor drumline season," said Johnson. Most high-school drumlines range from 20-30 students — but Chantilly's attracted a huge number of hopefuls.
"Because we had 60 kids come out for drumline, we have two drumlines," said Johnson. "They're like varsity and JV, and they both compete in different classes [of events]."
On Feb. 12, Chantilly's drumline vied against 40 other drumlines in Dayton, Ohio, in a national competition of bands all the way from Virginia to Indiana. And, said Johnson, "We did well enough to get an increase in our class."
On March 19 at Edison High, the drumline will compete in the Atlantic Indoor Association event against about 15 other Virginia high schools. Then come the AIA finals, April 5 in Richmond, and the World Championship — in which Chantilly will participate — April 13-16 in Dayton.
"It'll be against hundreds of drumlines, and students from Canada and Japan will compete," said Johnson. "The experience of just being there is bigger than the competition — seeing these groups that are so phenomenal."
As for the band, he said, "It's been very rewarding. We had a great marching band season, and the performance at the Virginia Music Educators Association was awesome. My expectations were very lofty, and the band exceeded them. Top to bottom, it's been an outstanding year."