Marching Up a Sweat

Tuba player Mario Naranjo and other members of the Gilroy High

High standards set for Gilroy High band with time consuming and
exhausting practice schedule
Gilroy – The football players have slid off their sweaty shoulder pads, their cleats are stashed away. At 6pm the Garcia-Elder Sports Complex sits empty, save for some bugs whizzing under the lights and a few joggers circling the tracking.

The Gilroy High School football team is heading home to a warm house and hot dinner, but when the sun sets and the chilly night rolls in, the Gilroy High School marching band files onto the field.

The dedicated bunch practices Mondays and Wednesdays from 6 to 9pm and Saturdays from 9am to 5pm. Practice for this year’s weekend games began right around the time the football team began try-outs. Marching band boot camp started two weeks before school started and lasted all day for one and a half weeks. The band will continue after-school and Saturday practices until football season ends.

A visit to Wednesday night’s practice reveals that all that practice is not only time-consuming but also exhausting.

“We run in a block instead of a circle which makes people pass out sometimes,” said Alissa Eves, an 18-year-old assistant instructor and GHS graduate.

During warm-ups students jog and do sit-ups and push-ups. If a member is late he or she will spend time running laps around the track.

Some new musicians might have expected less exercise. Not Natalie Aguilar.

The 14-year-old freshman has five older brothers who were all in the GHS marching band. Still, Aguilar wasn’t really excited about joining.

“My brothers convinced me,” she said before practice on Wednesday.

A few weeks into practice it’s obvious her attitude has changed.

“And it is fun,” she says with a smile.

The 52-member Marching Mustangs like adding spice to their sport. Each head of the drumline is topped with a fluorescent orange beanie. Other musicians wear playful attire: sunglasses, plaid-pajama bottoms, a black top-hat.

Yet, despite all the funk on the outside, this band can switch on the serious switch instantly.

The band has won numerous awards from various competitions in the past few years. The band was invited to compete in four competitions this year. In late March the wind ensemble is traveling to Boston to compete with a select group of musicians.

In 2002, the Mustangs placed first in five competitions and also won the Western Band Association show championships, which was the band’s first major win in 10 years.

Some credit Joey Fortino with the band’s success. Fortino, who was hired to head the GHS band program eight years ago graduated from GHS in 1992.

Like Fortino, Eves became so enmeshed in band that even though she graduated in June she’s still spending her evenings at GHS. As assistant pit instructor, she gets a chance to tap the marimba and march, two things she can’t do at Gavilan College.

“If they did I would totally play for them,” she said while chatting with her charges in the band room.

Before the students marched onto the field, each section warmed up independently with an instructor, away from the noise of the other instruments.

The seven drummers held a steady beat as they listened to Kirk Berkland’s instructions Wednesday. Berkland, the drumline instructor, pushed up sagging elbows and reminded students that “when the non-playing hand is at rest is should be in a playing position.”

Eventually the musicians joined one another on the empty football field and their marching instructor directed them into position. The drill team twirled flags on the track, while the colorguard coach kept the girls in line.

At 9pm the team headed home. They’ll return for an all-day session Saturday.

Such is the life of the GHS Marching Mustangs.

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