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Episode 103: Strike Up the Band – Behind the Scenes with the Herriman High School Marching Band

It is marching band season and that means a summer of hard work and dedication to music and marching comes to life on the football field and beyond.

On this episode of the Supercast, we take you behind the scenes to show what goes into creating precision and visual performance along with amazing music for students in the Herriman High School marching band.


Audio Transcription

Anthony Godfrey:
Hello and welcome to the Supercast. I’m your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. It is marching band season, and that means a season of hard work and dedication to music and marching will come to life on the football field and beyond. On this episode of the Supercast, join us as we go behind the scenes with the Herriman High School marching band. Simply put, this will be music to your ears.

We're here at Herriman High School with the director of bands. I'll let him introduce himself and then we'll talk with some of his students and maybe even experience a little marching band for ourselves.

Brandon Larsen:
My name is Brandon Larsen. I've been at Herriman for, this is now my sixth year here. It's clearly my dream job or else I wouldn't still be here. I really love it here because I get to be with these nerds all the time. We get to make music together, and compete, and I get to see them grow and become better musicians and better people.

Anthony Godfrey:
In a band program, nerd is a term of endearment. 

Brandon Larsen:
Yes, I think we were saying dork is better. I don't know, but either way.

Anthony Godfrey:
My son is a budding band nerd/dork as evidenced by the marimba that I purchased on KSL and put in my basement. What do you love most about being director of bands here at Herriman High?

Brandon Larsen:
The kids. Hands down, the kids. Watching them grow. Some of the kids that are here, like, I've known Kaden since he was in fifth grade. I taught his older brother and watched him grow. Each and every one of them from barely being able to make sounds on their instrument when I'm visiting them at the middle school to now we have all-state musicians here. They're very, very high class and hard working musicians. It's fun to watch them grow and see the things that they accomplish. That's a hands down, easy, easy answer.

Anthony Godfrey:
And when you're working with students, the progress is obvious when they're becoming musicians. Because like you said, you can see what they could do before and what they can do now. That must be very rewarding because you don't always get that outward result as a teacher.

Brandon Larsen:
Right, and it's not always obvious to them. So it's fun to be the person who says, "you're doing great. Hang in there. I'm seeing progress every single day. I'm proud of you." It's fun. It's fun to see you grow. That's the fun part because at this level it's so incremental that sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees, but I'm the third party that can come in and say, no, absolutely, "think of the music you were playing even last year and what we're doing this year" and help them reflect.

Anthony Godfrey:
It's true. We don't give ourselves enough credit for the progress we make. We stay focused on what we still don't know, and yet when we look back, we've made more progress than we realize.

Brandon Larsen:
That’s the fun thing about music too, is that we're never done. We're never done improving. We're never done getting better. We have, like it says on the wall, we have a motto and a credo of  ‘nothing worth having comes easy.’ So, we really pushed through those kinds of things. So not only are they getting musical skills, but they're also getting skills that they can take into their lives as contributing members of society, and to their jobs and to school. That kind of resilience that comes with continuing to improve every single time that they come to our rehearsal. 

Another unique thing about Herriman is that we have a study hall. So we will start on Monday where they'll get an hour and a half of time that's booked out in the library, just for them, right after school. Before rehearsal, they will go in there and I will check their grades. I go through every single one of their grades, all 130 of them, and make sure that all of them are staying caught up. And if they're not, we're making plans on how to keep going. So we continue that support because we don't just want them to be good musicians. We want them to use music to become better people, and musicians, and students, and citizens.

Anthony Godfrey:
I love that, and there's no deadline like a performance. Anything live you have to be prepared and you have to get a mindset for being prepared or else it's just not gonna work out. You're not going to become a musician. 

Brandon Larsen:
Right, it takes so much repetition and that's where the resilience comes in, right? Because we repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat, and then I reward them with one more repeat, right? Like, ‘we're going to do this. You did it great, now do it one more time. Do it great again.’ I can already hear their eyes rolling behind me right now, but that's how they improve. So that resilience comes in when they're willing to do it one more time, and make that incremental progress.

Anthony Godfrey:
Well, thanks for all your hard work on this. I know there's really no season. It doesn't end. It's all the time. I just really appreciate the opportunity that you're giving these students. I wish I'd taken that opportunity. It's a little intimidating when you don't know the instrument. I'm glad that you obviously get involved when students are younger. When you've known students since they were in fifth grade, you involve yourself early on. Tell me a little bit about that.

Brandon Larsen:
Well, I see every interaction that I have with a kid as either an educational or recruitment opportunity. So I will go with the middle school directors to the elementary schools, just so that they know my face. I'm at the middle schools every other day.  When I have my prep hours, I'm over at the middle schools team teaching and helping out, because I want them to feel like once you join the music program, you're a part of it all the way through. When these guys have siblings and when I see them, I always look at them and go, ‘ you look like a new tuba player. You want to come play the tuba.’ It's not a question, that's what they're going to do. So just making those connections with their siblings. Kaden was unique in that he wanted to march way back when his brother was in the marching band. He wanted to do it and he couldn't wait. Didn't you get to march one year with Davin? 

Kaden:
It just barely didn't work out.

Brandon Larsen:
So his older brother, is I think, four years older than you? So it just barely missed.He was at every competition with his family, just wanting to be there. So all we did was elbow and say, ‘come on, man, join us.’

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell us your name. 

Kaden:
I'm Kaden. 

Anthony Godfrey:
And you watched your brother march? 

Kaden:
Yeah. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Do you remember what that felt like when you hadn't done it yet and you were watching him do it? 

Kaden:
From like the third grade, I knew about marching band, but like fifth grade was really when I got into the program and stuff, doing like parade band and stuff. Parade band is just like a little window into what the real marching band stuff would be. So when I was out there on the stands, watching all of them perform and do like crazy things that I'd never seen before, I was like, oh, I wish I was on there.

Anthony Godfrey:
And now you've been able to do that. What year in school are you? 

Kaden:
It's my junior year.

Anthony Godfrey:
Junior year, so you've got another good year ahead of you as well. What instrument do you play?

Kaden:
I play the alto saxophone most of the time.

Anthony Godfrey:
Now, Ashton, you're the grand poobah. Remind me what's the exact term? 

Ashton:
I am one of the drum majors.

Anthony Godfrey:
The drum major. Okay, now there are military terms throughout the group here, I understand. So I'm going to talk to some platoon leaders and some others. So as the drum major, what is your specific responsibility?

Ashton:
I am the one in the front of the band conducting and keeping time.

Anthony Godfrey:
Let's just say that during a game or a rehearsal, you did something just completely unexpected. Would they do what you asked them to do? How would you stop them? Could you stop them somehow? Could you give them a signal to stop or to go really fast or to go really slow? And would they do it?

Ashton:
It's hard to say, because right now their main focus is kind of their drill and like finding their dots and like finding where to go. So their eyes aren't up looking at us yet, but we, we want them to be so.

Anthony Godfrey:
So ultimately yes. 

Ashton:
If they’re doing it right and we cut off and like told them to stop, they should stop. Yeah.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Now, when they're practicing, they're on their dots. So how does that start out? What's your name? 

Huck:
Huck.

Anthony Godfrey:
Huck, Tell me, how does that start out when you're in the dot phase of things?

Huck:
Basically what happens is we just get this little sheet of paper and it's got all these like crazy numbers written on it. You just have to look at it. It just says, your first dot is at this spot on the field and you just go there. Then we just rep that a couple of times. Then we do the next dot. We do that and then we just keep going and then we'll start putting dots together and doing like chunks. And then eventually we just had the whole thing on the field and then we'll add music to it.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you connect the dots into chunks and then you add music. I think I summarized that too succinctly. 

Huck:
Yes. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So does the dot have a particular number to it? Like, is there a number assigned to the dot and you go, oh, I've got dot number 27. Here I go.

Huck:
Yeah. So each member of the marching band has a letter that signifies their instrument and then a number for what number of the instrument they are.

Anthony Godfrey:
What is your role? Are you your drum minor or what are you? 

Huck:
So I'm the percussion platoon leader.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. What does the percussion platoon leader do?

Huck:
So I'm over all of the percussion. So that's the drum line and then the front ensemble, who's just in the front. 

Anthony Godfrey:
What does the front ensemble play?

Huck:
The front ensemble. It's like the marimbas, the vibraphone, xylophone, all the auxiliary percussion. They do a lot of the sound effects and stuff. So there's like synthesizers where there's like pianos and they'll do like effects and stuff that go with our show.

Anthony Godfrey:
It is a pretty amazing production, all of the instruments that end up on the field so quickly and then back off. Tell us your name and your role. 

Skyler:
I'm Skyler and I'm the field commander.

Anthony Godfrey:
And what does the field commander do?

Skyler:
Basically I’m the head drum major. So there's three other ones, Ashton, Cooper and Laura, and then me. I am motivating the band, leading the band, I conduct on those big high platforms.

Anthony Godfrey:
Oh yeah, okay. What do you think of being on the high platform? 

Skyler:
It's fun. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Yeah, okay. You're not clipped in or anything. It's just you up there. 

Skyler:
Yup. there’s a staircase behind me. 

Cooper:
There's a cage. 

Anthony Godfrey:
There's a cage.  Oh, is there a cage? 

Cooper:
He's got a cage. I don't. 

Anthony Godfrey:
And you're part of the percussion ensemble as well? 

Cooper:
No, I'm the other senior drum major. Ashton's one senior drum major and I’m the other one. Am I on the backfield permanently? Okay. So I'm on the backfield permanently.

Anthony Godfrey:
You just found out you're on the backfield permanently. Is that bad news or is that okay? 

Cooper:
It's news. That's fine. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Fair enough. What was your name? So I'm Cooper.

Cooper:
So being on the backfield is entertaining because my sound perception is different than anybody else because they're all facing the front field. Most of the rehearsal, I just run the met and deal with how off everything sounds and try to stare down Skyler and stay on tempo.

Anthony Godfrey:
So are you watching each other on the field also? So some of you were watching the tower commanders or the drum majors and the, sorry, I will get the terminology wrong every time. So you're watching at the top of the towers, but maybe some people are watching you, because they aren't, as they're moving around, they're not able to watch the drum majors. Is that correct?

Cooper:
Yeah, so being on the backfield, so I'm on the backside of the field. That was self-explanatory. There's a couple of sets in the show, mostly like the last half of second movement and the first half of third movement where the entire band is turned around looking at me while Huck and all the drum line is over there jamming out, having a great time. So basically that's my entire job just to be there for when that happens. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I knew you were involved with drums, and then I asked if you're involved with percussion and I expected that to be the same thing. What's the difference between percussion and drums? Is percussion anything you hit that isn't a drum? 

Cooper:
Drums are part of percussion, yes.

Anthony Godfrey:
So drums is a subset of percussion. Okay. This is very complicated, but very organized. I'm starting to understand. Okay. Tell us your name. 

Laura:
I'm Laura. 

Anthony Godfrey:
And what do you play Laura?

Laura:
Well, I'm the junior drum major of the band. So I'm also conducting.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay, so are you also on top of a tower?

Laura:
Yep. I am on a tower thing.

Anthony Godfrey:
Teach me a term that would make it seem like I am one of you because I'm wanting to be. So just teach me some lingo that I could throw out there when I'm walking through the parking lot at Corps Encore next time, that will make me seem like I really know marching band, like nobody else.

Laura:
Okay. So whenever we run any part of our show, we have to call the band to set. Which is when they have to stand at attention, basically with their arms up with their instruments depending on what they play or do. They’re definitely at attention and they have to be focused on us and not moving. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So that's calling the band to set. So how would you do that? 

Laura:
We just yell, “set.” 

Anthony Godfrey:
You just yell “set”.

Laura:
We just yell “set”. Sometimes we count down to give them more time to prepare themselves. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So this is good. When I'm walking, I would never do this to you guys now that we're all friends, but if I'm walking by a marching band at a random other school, I could say “3, 2, 1, set” and then they'd maybe do it?

Laura:
Maybe.

Cooper:
We could say that in the lunchroom and there are kids who would do it. 

Anthony Godfrey:
There were kids who would jump up and do it? So this is a way that you could tell who's in the marching band, just walking into any classroom. 

Cooper:
But you just need to listen to the music in the halls and see who's on step in the hallway. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. Yeah. So let me ask you about that. Is it hard to resist walking in time? 

Laura:
It’s very hard to resist.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. Okay. So this just becomes a part of who you are wherever you are.

Laura:
Yep, very much. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me your name and rank.

Bronson:
My name is Bronson and I'm the brass platoon leader and I am U2.

Anthony Godfrey:
You're the brass platoon leader? So with all these military terms, when they say you're the brass, that has a different meaning now. 

Bronson:
Yeah. So I'm in charge of all the brass instruments, the trumpets, the mellophones, the baritones and the tubas. I'm part of the tuba section, but I'm over all of the brass.

Anthony Godfrey:
Okay. What's the brass like? How would you describe the brass group compared with others?

Bronson:
The brass are very interesting. 

Anthony Godfrey:
You're one of them, so you can be honest. 

Bronson:
Yeah, sometimes we act like complete fools. But when we have “platoonals'' where I get all the brass together and we play the music, they sound beautiful. Like this is one of the best brass sections we've had.

Anthony Godfrey:
So you sound great together and have a great time together it sounds like.

Bronson:
That is very accurate. 

Anthony Godfrey:
That's awesome. Tell me about the workload and the time that you put into being part of the marching band here at Herriman High School.

Bronson:
It is almost a full week commitment. We have rehearsals Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes throughout the season, we'll do pep band for football games and those are on Fridays. And then once we get into the season, we have competitions almost every Saturday. So really our only free days are Tuesdays and Sundays.

Anthony Godfrey:
And you have a lot of practices over the summer as well from what I understand.

Bronson:
Yeah, later in the summer, normally a couple of weeks before school starts, we have our first week of band camp, which is 12 hours a day, five days a week. So 60 hours in a week where we work together. That's when we start learning our music and start setting our drill.

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. You spend as much time with marching band in the summer as I do with email, and that's a lot of time. Let's talk a little bit about color guard. Tell me your name. 

Carina:
I'm Carina and I'm the color guard platoon leader. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Tell me about the color guard platoon leader.

Carina:
It's definitely interesting because the guard has very different personalities all throughout. It's definitely different since we have three pieces of equipment. So everyone's doing different things at different times. 

Anthony Godfrey:
What are the three different pieces of equipment that you use? 

Carina:
So we spin flag, saber and rifle in the show.

Anthony Godfrey:
Flag, saber and rifle. And which is your favorite?

Carina:
My favorite to spin, I think would be flag.

Anthony Godfrey:
Flag looks like it's really, really hard though, because of the 'flagginess' of it. It would be really hard to spin that huge flag. Wouldn’t it?

Carina:
So flag is actually our beginner equipment and we always give it to anyone who’s new and trying different things out. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So the flag is beginner?

Carina:
Yes, it is. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. Because you're not flipping it up in the air or why is that?

Carina:
It's one of the larger pieces of equipment so it's a lot easier to handle. With saber and rifle they spin really quickly, so it's just more advanced.

Anthony Godfrey:
And the saber is, for those listeners, it's not an actual saber, right?

Carina:
No, it is not. 

Anthony Godfrey:
What do people maybe misunderstand about being in color guard? What would be a misperception about being in color guard?

Carina:
I think a lot of people just kind of confuse us with dance and drill. We're pretty similar because we have to be in the same unity and spin at the same time and be clean just like they are. But I think a lot of the time they confuse our skillset with theirs and how we spin with equipment and dance with it.

Anthony Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, we head out to the football field as they strike up the marching band. You don't want to miss it.

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Anthony Godfrey:
We're out on the field here with the band. You have a large crew, Mr. Larsen. How many students are out here?

Brandon Larsen:
Yeah. Right now, 130. When I started at Herriman we had 40. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. 

Brandon Larsen:
It's come a long way. 

Anthony Godfrey:
Wow. Well, it builds momentum when it's a great program and kids are enjoying themselves, the word spreads. 

Brandon Larsen:
Yes, I certainly hope so. 

Anthony Godfrey:
So tell me, how is this divided up? Percussion, brass? How many in each group would you say?

Brandon Larsen:
We probably have 24 or so in percussion. Woodwinds are about 25, 26. Brass are the large majority at around 30, 35 and then color guard is another 20, 21 on top of that. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I love how many students get to be involved in this. It's awesome.

Brandon Larsen:
This is the Superintendent of our school district right here, Dr. Godfrey. We're going to make some music for him. Yeah? Get in your music arcs really quickly so we can do that. Let's go move it, move it. Yell set. You wanted to do that. Give them 3, 2, 1. 

Anthony Godfrey:
I don't have a band director's voice. I'll try to. 3, 2, 1 set! Wow, that's really good.

Brandon Larsen
Concert B flat scale. Tick, tick, tadas on the way up and then long notes on the way down, say yes.

Drum Major:
5, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Anthony Godfrey:
What would you say to a student who is thinking about trying marching band or joining one of the bands here at Herriman High School or anywhere else? What advice would you give them? 

Cooper:
Just go for it. Like genuinely, I don't think there's a better organization in the school. I'm in choir and I have done theater too, and I think this is the most organized and just some of the most connected organizations in this school. Don't think that you're not good enough. We have classes if you're just starting and we're going to work you up. And once you're in, you're kind of stuck with us.

Anthony Godfrey:
So is this really like a second family after all the time that you spend together?

Cooper:
Easily. Sometimes it feels more like a first family.

Anthony Godfrey:
Thank you for all the time that you're putting into this and the way that you support each other. Thank you for taking the time and sharing this with me. I'm going to be yelling “set'' at classrooms and cafeterias and fields around the district to test what I've learned today. But what I've really learned is just how dedicated you are as students, to what you do in band, to academics and to each other. Thank you for that. 

Thanks for joining us on another episode of the Supercast. Remember education is the most important thing you will do today. We'll see you out there.

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