Mooresville High School seniors were trying on the black, blue and white uniforms they’ll wear in the upcoming season with band moms asking about fit, observing as students hold out their arms, pretend to play their instruments and walk.
There is some excitement in the air. Though most of these students have gone through the same ritual throughout their high school career, it’s yet another piece of the complicated puzzle falling into place as the band’s marching band show comes together.
“This is year 15 of teaching for me, and I think this is the most excited the students have ever been about a show idea or a show theme,” Mooresville High School Band Director Joshua Stevenson said. “Since we’ve been working on the music and we’ve finished part one and part two of learning the drill and all the movements for about two-thirds of the show, now every time we do something new or add a new element there seems to be new excitement.”
Stevenson started his career at Mooresville as an assistant band director for three years. He came back to the school in 2016 as the band director after teaching at Butler High School.
In about an hour, the seniors accompanied by their younger counterparts gather on Mooresville High School’s football field on a hot July evening and practice, playing music they’ve memorized and marching in formation. Almost 200 members make up the band.
This year’s show is about invention. Stevenson said the music will be made up of Bach’s Invention No. 13 and the song “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” A third movement will be original music combining elements from the first two songs.
“We are finding inspiration basically from Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, his sketch of his flying machine. We’ve got a prop that kind of looks like a modern day version of maybe what that would’ve looked like with gears that turn,” Stevenson said. “The show is basically about invention or inventing this. The machine starts the show apart. There are some wings that are kind of spread out throughout the field and a contraption in the middle. We’re going to add gears to it and wings, so that by the end of the show, this machine has sort of come to life.”
Stevenson said he talks to the team of assistant directors and staff about show themes.
During one of these conversations, a staff member brought up the concept of building something during the show which led to a discussion about inventions and famous inventors. Da Vinci was mentioned, followed by the sketch of his flying machine.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we somehow we re-imagined this, because he never really built it? It was just sort of a vision on paper he had,” Stevenson said. “We were trying to put ourselves in his position. If he were alive now, what would this machine look like? How can we make this come to life? We’re basically trying to tell that story through music and movement.”
As the football team wraps up its practice, the band students take the field. They start in carefully spaced lines, grouped by instrument. These are the positions they’ll start the show in. The students stretch as the steady beat of the drum line can be heard in the bus parking lot, warming up. Scales from the xylophones start as the band’s other percussionists also start warming up. The band’s color guard practices a routine, dancing on the track.
There are three props spaced out on the field. They’re the machine, gleaming in the sun. Two wings are waiting to be brought together throughout the course of the show and put on the body waiting at the 50-yard line.
At a staff member’s request, the students playing wind instruments practice looking pensively off into the distance, each pose purposefully different from all the rest. They’re thinking about invention, getting a future audience primed for the show.
The students playing wind instruments all converge at a staff member’s call, circling around him. He shows them a set of movements they’ll incorporate into the show. It looks difficult, involving push up position with one arm moving up, on beat, until it’s stretched out in front of him. The students try it anyway, watching as the staff member repeats the motion.
At six o’clock in July, it is hot, but each group of students seems excited and focused, ready to master more of the show.
“That (the students) like the show has been good because it’s pushing them a little bit more to reach a higher level of excellence also,” Stevenson said. “They’re working harder at rehearsals because they enjoy the show theme and what they’re doing.”
This rehearsal is just an evening practice. The two weeks before, students came to Mooresville High School from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with a three hour break each day to practice the show.
Stevenson said students gain a lot from participating in marching band.
“I think students really benefit from this activity because it teaches them teamwork, cooperation, how to set a goal or set goals for themselves as a group, group goals, but also as individuals and rising to the standards of those goals. It teaches them to kind of strive for excellence,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said the band doesn’t focus on winning but on being the best they can be as individuals and as a group.
Perhaps because of that mindset and the students’ determination and practice, Mooresville often brings first place awards back from competitions.
“Those are not the kinds of things we emphasize in our program,” Stevenson said. “Those are sort of aftereffects, maybe, of them buying into the system and being part of something that’s bigger than themselves. We talk about that a lot, about how you almost have to die to self a little bit to be a part of this group. You’ve got to put others’ needs and the group’s needs above your own needs sometimes to make that happen, but over the years, we’ve done pretty well.”
Stevenson said he also reminded his students that the band program has a long history. There are students who are third-generation band students. Grandparents will approach Stevenson after a performance and tell him about their experience with the first Mooresville band director.
With such history and connections, the Mooresville community is supportive of the band.
“The band is asked and invited to play in a lot of different things especially in the area because we’re the hometown band. We take that very seriously,” Stevenson said. “We take a lot of pride in doing things in and around the community, not just travelling to do a competition and things like that although that’s important to us also. We like providing for our needs close to home.”
Stevenson said the band’s involvement in community and school events has given the group a reputation for being very excited about their school and town. The students are proud of that reputation. There are always students volunteering to participate in events like pep rallies.
The students pull out that school spirit for football games too, playing popular songs to get the crowd excited and cheer the team on. Stevenson said being such a large group helps encourage spirit. With 200 students already cheering for a touchdown, how could the rest of the crowd not cheer along as well?
“Mooresville is band utopia. We just have so many great things going for our band program, and our students are just really lucky to get the experience that they get when they’re in our program,” Stevenson said. “I think just the number of students that participate is an indicator of that. I think people flock to things that they have a really great experience doing. Here, I think it’s like that. A lot of students participate because it’s like the experience they get in this band is very valuable.”