Ontario students take to the football field, but with instruments in hand

Monte Maxwell, a senior and brass section leader, plays his trombone during band practice Thursday, Oct. 14. (The Enterprise/LILIANA FRANKEL)

ONTARIO – As students filtered into the room, they parked themselves at seemingly random spots on its tiered floor.

They dropped their stuff and dragged music stands into position. Then, they slid into their uniforms. 

Just like that, Ontario High School’s marching band had arrived. 

The band program is close to 70 years old, said band teacher Max Justice, who’s in his first year in the role. Marching band takes place in the fall and next week will turn into the school’s concert band. 

While marching band plays more contemporary music and has uniformed students dancing on the football field, concert band is a sit-down affair featuring more classical styles. There’s also a jazz band. 

The Covid pandemic meant that there were no in-person band practices for the 2020-2021 school year. 

“We would play in Zoom, and it was just odd playing over the computer because you’d have these different instruments, for example my tuba, it’s the bass part, it doesn’t have the melody,” said Emily Kathriner, a senior and drum major of the marching band. “So it’s just off-putting playing by myself in my bedroom.”

This year, Justice said, numbers were down significantly in the program. There are only 15 student in marching band right now, as opposed to around 30 in the 2019-2020 school year.

“We did our best, our previous band teacher, he did his best, and you know, we adapted and we still got to make music even if it was in a very weird and unfamiliar way,” Kathriner said. “I think it affected a lot of the passion of some individuals, so I’m grateful for this year, that we’re able to renew that passion and remind them of what it means to be in a band.”

Kathriner said that modeling musical passion is at the heart of what she does as drum major. The role involves conducting the marching band while it’s on the field. 

“There are a lot of kids that do band and they kind of stick with it because they feel like it’s kind of their place to belong,” Justice said, citing the students’ similar interests and similar personalities as factors that made the band gel.

“They form this home away from home in the band room that maybe they haven’t found yet elsewhere in school,” he said. “Maybe (they’re) not into sports or whatever. It’s also just fun – it’s a little more active and involved, not just sitting around.”

Justice said he talks as little as possible in class so the students maximize their playing time.

Band is a class period at the high school, and students learn their instruments together in groups. There are no one-on-one lessons as part of the school day. To share knowledge, the band members rely on student leaders. 

Monte Maxwell, a senior, plays trombone and leads the brass section. 

“I make sure the brass section is all warmed up and ready to go when we perform,” he said.

Maxwell said that the hardest part of marching band was memorizing the music the band plays and how it fits in with the drill, or choreography. 

His favorite music to play is rock. Being able to play rock music and other contemporary styles, as well as the chance to get up and move around, makes marching band fun for Maxwell. 

“I think it’s more fun because of the music you get to play and march around,” he said. “And since we don’t have a color guard we kind of have to be our own color guard, doing movements like bell flashes (moving the bell of a brass instrument from side to side) and stuff…In concert band you’ve got to be formal, if that’s the right word. I think it’s fun for both us and the audience, because the audience likes it.”

Diego Chavolla Ortiz, a junior, plays clarinet and leads the woodwinds section. 

“There are times where we do sectionals where parts of the band split off to do their own thing so Mr. Justice can work with the group, so I lead the woodwinds, high woodwinds in this case, and we work on whatever we need to work on,” Chavolla Ortiz said. 

He said that the pep band music was his favorite because it entertains the crowd.

“It’s sort of meant to be flashy, because it’s only meant for a short time,” he said. “It’s meant to hype the crowd, sort of. Those songs are very memorable.”

Chavolla Ortiz said there was a lot about band that most students might not realize.

“I think it’s a lot tougher than most people think,” he said. “Especially marching band, because most people just boil it down to playing instruments, but that’s a big feat in itself, and also the marching aspect is tougher than it looks.”

Like Kathriner and Justice, Chavolla Ortiz said that the togetherness that band provides students is key to its appeal. 

During the pandemic, he said, “it wasn’t in person, so it wasn’t really band. It was just playing by yourself. (Being together) keeps people staying in band and keeps them motivated to continue playing their instruments.”

Band “means everything,” he said. “It means playing an instrument, working with other people who also play instruments, working together and performing.”

While the three students interviewed doubted they would pursue music professionally, all said they hoped to continue playing after graduating. 

“I don’t think it’s the end of the line yet,” said Kathriner. 

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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