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York High School’s marching band recently took home two first-place accolades in its competition group at the U.S. Bands Southern States Championship at the University of Tennessee.
The marching band, which includes 65 musicians and color guard members, made its first appearance at the regional championship this year after winning its group at the U.S. Bands Virginia State Championship last year.
Unable to return to the national championship, which they had attended in previous years, because of a scheduling conflict, the band decided to participate in the Southern States competition for the first time.
The competition, which took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Nov. 7, featured bands from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and George competing in six different groups based on size. York High School competed in Group III, which is for bands that have between 56 and 75 members.
Each group was further divided into a “Class A” or “Open” designation, with the former indicating a new or inexperienced band and the latter indicating a more established, competitive band.
York High, led by Richard Purvis in his 20 year as band director for the school, won first place for Best Music and Best Overall Effect in the Group III Open competition with a performance entitled “Meme: The Spread of an Idea.”
Playing off the cultural phenomenon of memes, which are usually humorous images spread and tweaked through social media, Purvis said the band’s performance was all about how “one person would spark something and others would follow.”
The four-act show used music, dance and props to highlight themes of imitation and repetition. Objects like boxes and poles were used to provide variations in movement and color.
The group performed its routine to classical selections like “Tocata and Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach and “Largo” from Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” as well as original contemporary compositions from Kevin Shah, a marching arts designer and arranger.
“We’re not really a traditional marching band,” Purvis said. “We’re more like an outdoor performance ensemble. We take a concept and tell a story.”
The band’s victory came after months of preparations. Students who signed up for the elective attended weekly conditioning sessions to stay in practice over the summer and an intensive three-week day camp just before the school year began in September. Once classes were underway, they also put in eight hours a week in after-school rehearsals.
“It’s a lot like doing a sport,” Purvis said of the commitment required to be in the marching band.
That commitment paid off when the group was able to bring home two blue ribbons at the end of their season, a victory that Purvis said left him “speechless.”
“I think [the competition] made a lasting experience in the minds of these kids that they won’t ever forget,” Purvis said. “I was so proud; it was magical.”