Transitions aren’t easy. At their worst, they can be chaotic and disruptive.
For a marching band director, coming in just before the start of the season is especially challenging. So, as Ms. Malia Mueller took the conductor’s baton from outgoing Steel Valley Marching Band director Mr. Michael Sisley, her priority was to make sure that there was as little disruption as possible.
“I came in with the mindset of not wanting to change a bunch of things, just because they started band camp with the previous director. I kind of wanted to keep the vision the same of what the band was going to be this year,” she said. “I've been trying to incorporate my teaching philosophies with the students, and just trying to build a family, build a culture where the students feel appreciated and can grow their love of music together.”
Drum majors Atreyu Convard and Loki Brown said that having Mr. Sisley through band camp, followed by having Ms. Mueller coming on board for the annual Kennywood performance and August practices, aided in the transition.
“That helped a lot, I think, with being able to say goodbye in a good way and on a good note,” Brown said.
“I’m pretty excited because unlike the past two years I've been in band, we got all of our drill done during band camp,” Convard said. “A little bit because of that, we fell a behind a little bit on music. But we’re improving a lot week to week.”
This is the second year that the band has had seventh and eighth graders participate. The change bolstered the ranks last year and the growth has continued.
“There's a lot of them in our band, which is really exciting because then we have a bigger band and a bigger sound, and more people that we can make music with,” said Ms. Mueller, a Baldwin High School graduate who spent the last few years teaching and directing in the Palmerton Area School District. “It also pushes our seventh and eighth graders to learn more challenging music that they're not used to.”
Convard, a junior flute player, said that the biggest growth has been with percussion. The band has gone from having just one pit member and two drummers to having a full pit with an almost full drumline.
“We're still growing. Some of these kids are still young, and we got some new seventh graders as well, so I think we're still improving,” he said.
“Seeing the seventh and eighth grade allowed to come into the band has definitely helped us immensely,” said sophomore color guard captain Theo Coyne. “They understand that everyone needs to be equal here, so they're working as hard as they possibly can and it's just getting the band and the guard the power that everyone needs.”
Junior color guard captain Alaina Hanley said that as the season has progressed, practices have become crisper and more productive, which has naturally led to better performances on the field. That was evident in the band’s first competition at Penn Trafford on Sept. 9. Prior to that event, the band had not installed its entire show for its halftime performances. They came in early Saturday morning, learned the final part of the show, and performed it later that day.
“We had such a late night on Friday. We got home around 11:30,” Ms. Mueller said. “Most of us didn't go to bed until late into the early morning hours. And they were here 9 a.m. ready to go and we pushed through and learned a ton of new things.”
The result was a jolt of confidence that has carried over to subsequent practices and performances.
“Putting the whole show on the field kind of helped everyone realize, ‘Oh, this is how long our show is,” Coyne said. “This how much energy and acting ability I need for those eight-and-a-half minutes.”
Assistant marching band director Randy Kratofil, color guard instructor Scott Henley, and percussion instructor Doc McGrew have played an integral role in getting the band up to par. This year’s theme is Romeo and Juliet as told through the music of Billy Joel. The performance includes Joel’s hits “Big Shot,” “Uptown Girl,” “Piano Man,” “Just the Way You Are,” We Didn’t Start the Fire,” and “Only the Good Die Young.”
Lucas Barefoot performs as Romeo throughout the show, while Sunny Clark is Juliet. The steps and movements include a few extra requirements for the band members.
“Piano Man’ is our waltz and it shows we’re not just a band,” Brown said. “We have other things we can do. We can dance!”
The quality of the show and the continued growth of the band has its members excited for the future. Homecoming is always a significant week for the band with pep rallies, the powder puff game, and the pomp and circumstance on Friday night. Convard, though, is especially excited about the band’s opportunities in competitions. Brown added the band is targeting a score around 75, but that hitting 80 would be a significant accomplishment.
“I think that we have a lot of potential,” Coyne said. “I think a lot of people realize how they can make the show better personally and how we can make it better as a group.”
“It's been amazing,” Hanley said. “I love this band. I love performing. I love everybody that's in it.”