Menchville Marching Monarchs Kick Off 2017 Season

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Sandy Graham

The Marching Monarchs start their show in the classic Superman “S” formation.

Laura Madler, Staff Writer

August 14th, 7:20 AM

Menchville Parking Lot

A horde of half-asleep high school students shuffle across the hot pavement- a parking lot devoid of automobiles except for a blazing red Camaro parked by the band entrance. They are laden with their armor of waterpacks, hats, sunglasses, and copious amounts of sunscreen. Their hands clutch weapons prepped for battle- metal glinting in the sun and casting shadows on the ground. The horde makes its way into the jungle in front of the school building. Dew-covered weeds and knee-high caterpillar grasses in the field grab at the legs moving by, eventually being trampled by the procession. The horde instinctively stops in perfect formation, creating a massive block of people in perfect lines. From off the side of the field comes the battle cry, “Detail-Atten-HUT!” In unison, the mass snaps to attention. Soldiers? No- this is band camp.

The Menchville Marching Monarchs have put in over 80 hours of practice time since August, performed at two football games,  and trained three days a week since the beginning of the school year. They are a team of 97 dedicated students who spend autumn practicing, performing, and, yes, competing, with their halftime show. A 6-time “Superior” rated honors marching band, the Marching Monarchs have earned an impressive reputation in the Peninsula community and beyond. Straight off the heels of their performance at the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the band was invited to be a part of the renowned New Year’s Day Parade in Rome, Italy. The band will travel to Rome in late December of 2018 to march with a 7-12 other bands from United States and Europe, who were the lucky few to be chosen in the highly selective parade process. The Monarchs will be marching with 3-4 other high school bands, but they will be the sole representatives from the state of Virginia in the parade. Until 2018, the band will be busy performing this season with what some may call an “out of this world” display.

“Space” is the theme of the Marching Monarchs’ 2017 show. The band will be playing iconic themes from Superman and Star Trek, as well as Princess Leia’s Theme from Star Wars, and “Mars” from Holst’s suite, “The Planets.” Echoes of the extraterrestrial are found in all different aspects of the show. The marching band creates formations in the image of well-known spacecraft, and the flags used by the color guard depict a few of the planets of the solar system. On choosing the theme, Band Director Deborah Sarvay says she was “just looking for something a little different. We’ve had a couple of very serious shows in the past couple years so I was looking for something that was fun and recognizable, but still had some good music.”

But how does all of this come together?

Prepping for the marching band show starts long before the fall season. A theme must be put together, music must be picked out, and drill must be configured- all before rehearsals start in early August. Students in band receive the show’s four music pieces at the end of the previous school year, and they must memorize all of it before the beginning of camp in August. Once band camp actually rolls around at the end of summer, students spend five hours a day, four days a week, marching and practicing at Menchville. The process can be grueling, especially with the scorching hot weather and humidity characteristic of a Virginia summer. It is a lot of hard work for students and the band staff alike, but the weeks of band camp, according to Sarvay, went “really smoothly this year.” “It was the easiest band camp we’ve ever had,” she continued, laughing.

But even with a strong start at band camp, the transition into the marching band season is never easy- particularly for students new to the process. Band members must learn quickly how to march, stay in step, remember where to go for formations, and play four full pieces of memorized music all at the same time. Guard members in the band have just a week before marching to go from not knowing how to hold a flag, to being able to spin six-foot metal poles with ease. For guard, the latter half of band camp also means memorizing four different sets of routines, learning how to manage four different sets of flags, and tossing- all whilst marching formations in step with the rest of the band. The difficulty of marching band is often underestimated. When asked about the level of skill involved, and the difficulty of learning how to put all the aspects of marching band together, Sarvay says,“It’s very tough, it’s very tough. People think, ‘Oh you’re just walking around on a field and playing a horn,” but it’s not. There’s a lot of coordination to it, and some of them [band members] will get it right away, some of them will take a little while, with some of them it will be next year before they really lock into it, and it’s just a learning process.”

With hard work and dedication, the Marching Monarchs can put together a spectacular show. The band already has the entire performance set, drilled, and memorized for the year. Now, says Sarvay, the band is “trying to clean and perfect it.” “We’ll be changing, and adding, and taking away, and doing whatever we need to do to make it better.”

The Menchville Marching Monarchs will take their display to their first competition of the season, the Hermitage Classic in Richmond, on the weekend of September 30th. Outside of competitions, students and teachers can view the band’s show at home football games at Todd Stadium for the rest of the season.