This article originally published in the Tulsa World.
With the start of a new school year just a few short weeks away, thousands of area high school students are preparing to head back to school.
Meanwhile, some others never left.
Hundreds of high school marching band members have spent their summer in hours-long practices preparing for this fall, when their time will be filled with half-time performances, community appearances and fierce competitions.
Union High School’s band instructors use summer practice hours primarily to focus on the fundamentals, allowing performers to hone their skills before coming together as a unit.
For Union Renegade Regiment marching band members, that means the majority of summer practice is divided by sections — brass, woodwinds, percussion and color guard.
Anywhere from 20 to 50 students within those disciplines gather for a few hours at a time to perfect their high-quality technique in small groups before rejoining the band, which comprises about 275 students, band director Charles Pisarra said.
Union’s first all-band practice of the season was held last week, but those will continue as the group prepares for competition.
The Renegade Regiment will practice more than 1,000 hours — many of those hours in sweltering heat — in preparation for regional and national competitions across the country in cities including Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri, as well as Indianapolis and Dallas.
“From a time standpoint and a work ethic standpoint, it’s very rigorous,” Pisarra said.
“We don’t just rehearse until we get it right; we rehearse until we can’t get it wrong.”
To cultivate that level of muscle memory, instructors emphasize more than just musical mastery. Choreography and yoga training are incorporated into practices, too.
Peter Wetherbee, a senior who plays the trumpet, said there’s a sense of family within the band that makes performing together that much more rewarding.
“You connect on an emotional level,” he said, “and you’re making the best possible performance art for your community.”
Bixby High School’s Pride of Bixby marching band kicked off its intensive band camp last week after hosting sporadic practices throughout the summer. The camp runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week for just over two weeks.
“The kids are very into furthering their musicianship and their skills on the field,” band director Jeremy Parker said. “It says a lot of their character that they’re here two weeks before school starts for nine hours a day.”
Parker credits part of that dedication to the camaraderie the roughly 200 students have built during their band experience. They often spend time together outside of rehearsals at social gatherings, he said.
The band is preparing to compete in a host of area, state and regional competitions in the fall.
Monday marked the first day of band camp for Pride of Owasso band members and the second week of camp and rehearsals for the Pride of Broken Arrow and Jenks High School’s Trojan Pride.