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The Mary Persons marching band, headed by second-year band director Miles Benson, is set to put on a show for fans this fall like they’ve never seen. In spite of restrictions due to Covid-19, the band still put together a halftime show and it’s going to be an emotional roller-coaster. 

“The theme is called The Breakup,” said Benson, himself an MP gradutate. “The storyline will take you through the stages of grief caused by a breakup and is kind of an ode to the year 2020. It starts off with the song ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson 5, when you’re still in the denial period and haven’t really accepted the breakup. Then we get into sort of surviving the breakup and getting over it with a mashup of ‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor and ‘Survivor’by Destiny’s Child. Then, there’s the acceptance stage with ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele and finally, for the moving on stage, there’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson and “‘We’re Never Getting Back Together’by Taylor Swift. 

Benson says the show this year will be different than any they’ve done before. Traditionally, halftime shows consist of three songs with pauses in between. The band’s show this year will have six songs with no full-on band breaks in it. 

“We really wanted to try and do one continuous show this year. The goal is to have at least one section of the band playing at all times. That way, we’re able to string more songs together and use parts of songs as transitions. We’re doing more songs this year than we’ve ever done.”

Coronavirus unfortunately is an unavoidable topic and the band was hit hard like all other recreational activities. The band is limited in what drills they can perform on the field and has to keep distancing in mind. They’re also not traveling to away games, as many schools are not allowing visiting bands. Benson believes the reason is partly due to limited seating and restricted ticket sales due to the pandemic. 

“Schools are only letting in 50% of their normal capacity and need the visiting band section for spaced seating,” said Benson.

The halftime show has players and the visual ensemble spaced out across the field and doesn’t include much movement. As they get further into the season and cases continue to go down, Benson hopes to add some moves to make the show visually interesting. 

“We don’t want to do a show where kids are just standing still. We’re trying to do as much as we can.”

The band will be in the stands during football games as usual. Benson says the school has even ordered special adaptive masks that woodwind players can wear while playing their instruments. The band wasn’t able to do its normal camp this summer but got around this by having a virtual band camp.  

“It was different and definitely unique, but we managed to get a head start on learning music and the very basics of marching,” said Benson. “We even got a little news highlight on 13WMAZ which was cool.”

For the camp, Benson set up a Google-Drive containing music, warmups and exercises so players could access materials from home as well as folders where bandmembers could submit videos of them playing. Benson had help from Elise Allen and Stephen Braswell, the middle and elementary school band directors. According to Benson, Allen and Braswell do a great job of training younger students so they’re ready to go when they reach the high school level. 

“Band is like sports in that you need to build those strong fundamentals early on before you’re able to compete. It’s really unadvisable to allow kids who’ve never done band to enter in high school. We have a policy that requires them to be involved in private lessons beforehand because by high school, some of these kids have been in band since fourth grade. Their musical ability is much further along. News kids would really struggle to keep up starting this late.”

Benson and the school also hired several music clinicians from all over to teach players virtually through ZOOM. One of the teachers was based as far as Maryland. The band never tried to play as a group through ZOOM though because, in Benson’s words, that’d have been a hot mess. 

Each instrument group would practice in individual sections, led by a student section leader. These sessions included online bonding activities as well as review on marching fundamentals. Student leaders would take younger players through some of the different marching steps, how to correctly hold your horn and how to look and stand. Sections also competed in “band wars”, where points would be awarded to sections who performed best in different competitions. 

“All the student leaders have done a really great job. Our band captain this year is Charlette Wilcox and she’s also stepped in as our social captain. She creates and gets approved all of the band’s social media posts. She keeps the face of the band going strong.” Alongside Charlotte in leadership roles are Katie Thomason, Heather Tillman and Haylie Heath as the band’s three drum majors.  

Including visual ensemble, the band has 22 seniors this year, many of whom are section leaders. Currently, there’s a senior section leader for flute (Elizabeth Bennett), trombone (E’Nyia Tolbert), tuba (Grant Pixley), drumline (Ryan Arnold), two out of the three trumpets (Katelyn Adams & Ethan Lord) as well as one on the visual ensemble (Deyana Stokes). 

Amy Edwards has been the school’s visual ensemble coordinator for the last three years. Before her, Vicky Sykes was the coordinator. Sykes has a granddaughter on the middle school ensemble and still comes around often to help out.  The ensemble has 20 girls this year, including three seniors. 

In a typical year, the marching band will compete in various competitions set up by different schools in the state. Programs will put on events and then put the money earned towards their supplies fund. 

“The programs use the events as fundraisers. A good number of them have been cancelled. Schools don’t want a bunch of bands coming together right now and a lot of them, like us, have travel restrictions. There are some schools that are still looking to put on some form of competition. Most are getting delayed till later in the fall.”

In addition to marching band, the usual district, region and all-state competitions are up in the air as well. The band had 17 high schoolers make the district band last year. Of those, eight made it to region and two of those made it to all-state (Grant Pixley on tuba and Katie Thomason on flute).

“Honor band for us is at three different levels. There’s the district, which is just the central GA area and the counties that are within our district of GMEA (Georgia Music Educators Association). Then, the region level is the south half of Georgia and all-state, obviously, is the entire state.” Benson believes that Pixley and Thomason have a good shot of making all-state again and hopes that the band’s able to compete. 

“We’re still waiting to hear what the status on those events is going to be.” Benson says he’s grateful for the community and school support he’s received, particularly in this time of uncertainly. 

“We have some great facilities here. There aren’t many neighboring counties that have the fine arts center that we have so we’re very blessed by those means. The county in general has been very supportive of the program and made sure we have the instruments and supplies we need each year which is great. Our administration has been very supportive and tried to be flexible with us so the kids can have as good an experience as possible while being safe.”