A joint performance from eastern Greenbrier marching bands brought a huge crowd to Spartan Stadium on Oct. 15 to see shows based on the Beatles, Wizard of Oz, and Pink Floyd. The event occurred during a great performance in the Greenbrier East High School’s (GEHS) competitive band season.
The Eastern Greenbrier Middle School (EGMS) Pep Band brought their renditions of iconic Beatles songs, while the GEHS Spartan Marching Band performed their field show. After the performances, both bands took the field to play three more Beatles songs, including Let It Be and Hey Jude.
The high school band’s field show, The Dark Side of Oz, brings together iconic themes and riffs from the Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The show was inspired by an urban legend, saying that when the movie and the album begin at the same time, they line up strangely well, the album serving as an alternate score for the events of the movie.
Spartan Marching Band Director Jim Allder explained that the joint performance was intended to showcase the bands and encourage middle schoolers to continue performing. The event was planned at the last minute, encouraging the EGMS band students to stick with the program as they continue on into high school.
“We want those middle school kids to see what we’re about, have a good time,” explained Allder. “I think they generally did. The original plan was to have a middle school night at one of our football games and we had that scheduled for the Friday before [the event]. Then, throughout the day, they were calling for 60 to 80 percent chance of rain, so we made the decision at the last minute, [to cancel]. It turned out to be a nice evening, but the blessing in disguise is that it made us shift plans to the band night. We scrambled and made that happen really quickly. I couldn’t have planned that better.”
|The bands play the National Anthem together.|
For Allder and the Spartan Marching Band, this is not the first time the Dark Side of Oz has been put on the field, but this year came with a number of changes from the first performance. Although Allder hoped to bring the show back under different conditions, such as decreased enrollment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the show came together for the 2021 season.
“We did the show in 2007, a version of the show, and it’s been one that I always said I wanted to revisit when we had a larger band,” Allder said. “Originally, in 2019, we had 90 kids with maybe prospects for more than that. … We reimagined everything, we had props designed, but nothing was built yet. The concepts were there. [EGMS Band Director] Brain Carr does our arrangements and does an awesome job with everything. He went back and rescored things. … [This year, we said] we’ve already put so much work into it, it’s ready to go, and if we don’t do this we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and do something else. We may not have as many people, but I feel like we’ve got the talent to pull [it] off.”
Shortly before speaking with The West Virginia Daily News, the Spartan Marching Band was in class, listening to critical feedback from judges during a performance the previous Saturday. Allder drove the discussion, asking the performers to listen for the specific criticism to use when improving. Although the band performs very well in competition, Allder specifies that this is a product of what the band does, not the goal.
“It’s not that I’m not competitive, but competition isn’t my motivation. Everybody likes to do well at competitions, and the kids like to do well at competition. I know that judging, no matter how objective, is going to take on the opinion of whoever is judging. You’re never going to please everybody – if you put all your self worth or all of the band’s self worth into how well you score in a competition, you’re setting yourself up for that chance that someone just doesn’t like what you’re doing. We’ve had that before – that 2007 year. We did really well competitively that year, but at the Atlantic Coast Championships, we came in dead last. That panel of judges didn’t get what we were doing. There was one judge on the panel that got the concept, he was the brass judge, and out of 29 bands, he had us placed 8th, while everybody else had us dead last.”
However, the results do speak well of the performers.
“We won our class in most of the contests that we’ve gone to,” Allder said. “We’ve got a couple of grand championships. We’re doing the Governor’s Cup Series that’s being put together by Randall Reid-Smith out of the Division of Cultural History in Charleston. We’re right in the top heap. … Competitively, we’re doing really well, but like I said, you never know when you’re just going to have judges that don’t like what you’re doing. … Our goal is to have a show that people are talking about – we want to leave the field and hear people from other bands and other schools saying that was awesome. That’s what we want and we’re getting that.”
|The Spartan Marching Band’s show, the Dark Side of Oz.|
Several students agreed.
“[The show is] really unique, I’ve never seen anything like it from other bands in my time in marching band,” said Lawson Hamilton. “For me, [Friday] was a really strong show, and I think for everyone else it was too. We still have a lot to work on – we listened to the judge’s comments in the last class period and the first one was really critical, but I still think we did a lot of good.”
“I absolutely love the show, it’s one of my favorite shows that I’ve ever seen or participated in,” said Lana Cunningham. “It’s so unique and it has a beautiful storyline with Pink Floyd accents, it’s just beautiful all around. … I would definitely say come down to the show, especially if you have kids who want to do the high school band.”
The performance came the day before a Saturday competition, allowing the Spartan band to play the show without having judges watch their moves.
“It was really nice to have the experience. It was a competition, so it wasn’t as much pressure to be perfect, but it was still people there for us,” said Schuyler Kincaid, a Spartan band member. “We weren’t being overshadowed by the football team and the game, but we weren’t being judged either. It was nice to get a chance to have fun with the show, and not have to worry about it as much.”
|The crowd applauds after the EGMS band played.|
Allder agreed and celebrated the community turnout.
“I was happy to see community members and people we don’t get to see all the time. My parents both came from far away. It was really cool – their grandkids [are in the show]. … It was something that my own kids were looking forward to. My daughter is a senior, and she’s Dorothy this year. It was like ‘if we don’t do it now, she doesn’t get to be a part of it.’ She would tag along and dress like Dorothy when she was [little] in 2007, so it completes the circle.”
Ceili Allder, a member of the color guard, Dorothy, and Jim Allder’s daughter, recalled vague memories of the 2007 show, but excitedly spoke about entering the color guard.
“I don’t really remember a whole lot from that time because I was three, but I remember always wanting to be part of the guard because of the visual aspect of the show,” Ceili Allder said. “Sitting up in the stands, I was always like ‘I want to be one of those characters and I guess I want the attention of the audience ’cause little kids crave attention. It’s really rewarding now, and hearing the story about how I wanted to do that is interesting to think about. I have vague memories of being in the gym and seeing the wicked witch bike by the window.”
After shows, she would often hear from people in other bands, who recognize her iconic role in the show.
“We’ll go to competitions and people will say ‘hey Dorothy, I love your show!’ Sometimes I’m like wait, are they talking to me? They’re talking to me! I really love performing, whether it’s horn, with guard, with dance. It’s really nice to tell this story. As the main character, I have one of the lead roles in telling that story – it’s a lot of pressure, I guess, to be able to do that in a way that fits with the show and fits with what everyone else is doing, but I think myself and the other main characters have worked on it enough to be able to handle that well. It’s really, really rewarding when people say ‘hey that’s a great story, we really love what you’re doing out there, I’m really impressed by that.’ It just feels really good.”
The show is full of features for individual players and performers as well, with solos from Cedric Allder, Ezra Showell, Lawson Hamilton, and more. The features can also bring unexpected people into the band, something the elder Allder also celebrates.
“I had this young lady, [Bailey Demma], that had been in Second Block Rock and done some things for us. She had been a flute and piccolo player for the concert band, but didn’t do marching band last year. I was like Bailey, you ought to play keyboard in the pit and she was very unsure. Honestly now she’s one of the cornerstones of the whole thing. It was a blessing to be able to get her doing that.”
The Allders, several students, and this writer, a band alumni themselves, encourage the community and future students to stick with the program for the skills, friends, and community it fosters. The band will continue to bring shows to the Greenbrier Valley for years to come.
“Every single year, the Greenbrier East High School Band tries to outdo themselves again, so this isn’t just a one-year thing,” said Ceili Allder. “Hopefully next year will be a step even bigger than this and I’m really proud to be an alumni of this band, as I’m sure everyone else is too.”