The Mount Airy marching band is hard at work learning three pieces that it will perform at a college football game in late December.
The Marching Granite Bears were chosen from among a slew of candidates to take the field at halftime of the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 29. Between now and then, the Bears are practicing their music and organizing fund-raisers to pay for expenses.
The band will be holding a Sabika and Tools Bingo Night on Dec. 5 in the Commons area of the high school to help with traveling expenses.
Band Booster president Beth Pequeno said that just hiring a bus company for the trip — lasting from Dec. 27-31 — will cost more than $6,000.
“The Band Boosters have committed themselves to raising the money to cover the bus expense, so the cost (to) each student stays around $600 for the five-day trip,” Pequeno said. “We have also held fund-raisers to help students earn money to cover their own trip expenses.”
On Dec. 5, doors open at 5 p.m. with games starting at 6:30 p.m.
Twenty Bingo games will cost $20; for an additional $10, players will receive two bonus cards and 10 door-prize tickets.
The value of the prizes is estimated at more than $2,500. Ten Sabika Jewelry prizes and 10 tool prizes will be given away.
Many items for the prizes and for a silent auction were donated by local merchants and band supporters, said director Jonathan Jones. The jewelry items were purchased with donated cash, he added.
Concessions available for purchase will include hot dogs, fresh popcorn, desserts and drinks.
Back from the dead
“The Mount Airy Marching Granite Bears has risen back up,” said Jones. “The program was discontinued just three years ago.”
The Bears had suffered from low numbers for a few years before halting the marching band entirely for the 2012 football season. Home fans cheered for visiting bands that performed at halftime.
Then in 2013, the school hired a new conductor.
Jones said he had been teaching at a middle school in Goldsboro during the week, then playing trombone with music groups that toured the Raleigh/Durham area. He also played with orchestra groups for theater productions.
That first year, the band had only 10 musicians, but Jones’ enthusiasm for music soon had the ranks swelling until they now number 50 musicians and five color guard members.
In the first couple of years, kids from the middle school band would have to come up to the high school to help fill in the ranks for football games and concerts, he said.
“I am proud of how the students have worked to learn their instruments, practiced to march a full show, and pushed themselves to be the best they can be,” said Jones. “The support from the families, faculty, and school board has helped tremendously and made a difference in our success.”
Now in his third year in Mount Airy, Jones pointed out that his group has performed in competitions this fall.
The band has earned third place or higher in every event the past two years, he said.
“The students have worked to form this band back into an award-winning band program. The young students in the marching band show what hard work is all about.”
So how did this new conductor turn things around?
Mount Airy has a rich music heritage and a strong musical blood line, believed the Georgia native. He just needed to cultivate that inexperienced talent.
“Just like in sports, get the kids motivated, and they’ll move a mountain for you,” he said. He believes in reaching a child first, then teaching music second.
Inspired by the hard work of his students, Jones began seeking out bigger venues where the band could showcase its talents. The Russell Athletic Bowl, formerly known as the Tangerine Bowl, seemed like a good fit, so he began the process of wrangling an invite about a year ago.
Being a developing program, Jones said he had no idea last year how big a band he might have this season, so he looked for opportunities to play with other schools in a mass band.
In Orlando, the Bears will practice with 19 other bands from across the nation. The only other North Carolina participant is South Point High from Belmont, west of Charlotte.
One of the two teams playing might also be from this state as early projections this week are that it could be UNC versus TCU in the bowl game.
The stadium in Orlando is huge, so it takes a lot of sound to fill up a place that size, said Jones. The 20 bands are all rehearsing the same three pieces on their own to prepare for the mass band.
Those selections are a couple of classic songs: Mustang Sally, made famous by Wilson Pickett, and Shout It Out Loud by Kiss. The third is a jazz standard called Killer Joe, which Jones said has a nice driving rhythm.
A lot of band directors love classical music and want to use that in halftime shows, said Jones. Instead, he believes that football fans deserve a show that pumps them up for the second half. This year, his halftime show featured a medley of Bruno Mars songs.
While the Bears are in Orlando, the bands will have a chance to learn from nationally acclaimed adjudicators, the professionals who judge band competitions.
Once the work is done, the band will use its free time to catch a show of the Blue Man Group and visit Universal Studios.
For more information on Mount Airy’s Band Boosters and the fund-raising efforts, contact Jonathan Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or Beth Pequeno at email@example.com.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.