MCHS marching band learns new traditions
Craig It all looked like part of the act.
When Keath Fenton furnished his light saber and hit his band director, John Bolton, in the shoulder, Bolton made sure the simple mistake became a memorable part of the light, irreverent Star Wars theme of the halftime show.
To the laughter of fans in the bleachers Friday night at Moffat County High School's homecoming football game, Bolton waved his arms dramatically and fell to the ground, as if struck down by the dark side of the force.
The homecoming game halftime show was the culmination of weeks of practicing outdoors in hail, sleet and wind for 72 MCHS band students.
On Friday night, Bolton led his marching band through the music and performance of its final gig before its return to the warmth of the band room for the winter concert season.
MCHS always has had a marching band that uses a small amount of practice time during band class.
But Bolton said that when he arrived six years ago, the marching program was all but decimated.
"There were 28 kids," he said. "And they were nearly comatose."
A self-proclaimed experimenter, Bolton admits to often not knowing what his students will respond to.
He's since learned that it's the little things, like Star Wars-themed music and a choreographed light saber fight, that keep the young musicians engaged.
"These kids really have fun with it," he said. "They won't say that now because they're sick of it, but in 10 years this is what they'll be talking about when they get together."
During the last six years, Bolton has used trial and error to discover how to build a strong base for the program.
"We didn't have the deep tradition to really sustain a program," he said. "What I'm finding is to take something simple, and just do it every time, every year."
One of the new traditions has nothing to do with music.
After the football game, Bolton makes sure the band leaves no trash behind in the bleachers.
Originally on Bolton's orders, they picked up every last empty popcorn bag and hot chocolate cup.
"The band leaves no trash behind," he said. "We don't leave our area messy, and that's important."
Now, he said, they've made the new traditions their own.
The marching band filled a corner of the bleachers Friday night, a sea of blue sweatshirts and brass instruments reflecting the stadium lights and fireworks.
Bolton sat in the back row of the band, while the student drum major, Fenton, directed his fellow students with precision.
Bolton was only the target of jokes, complaints of cold hands and pleas to go to the bathroom.
"I could honestly leave right now, go get a burger and come back at the end of the halftime show and they wouldn't notice," he said. "A few years ago, I was doing a lot more handholding."
Each spring, the band votes on its own drum major, a student who is responsible for selecting the music and conducting the marching band.
"They really picked a winner this time," Bolton said, watching and listening as the band played music like "Let's Go" and the MCHS fight song. "He really carries them."
Fenton, a senior, said he essentially wants to be like Bolton in his future career.
He wants to be a conductor, and being a drum major is the first step.
He plays saxophone, but likes conducting because of the power he wields over the music, even in his Anakin Skywalker costume.
"I wish I could play every instrument," Fenton said. "But I can't. So it's nice to be able to really make music like this."
When the game clock hit double zeros Friday, Bolton got up in front of his students and thanked them for a "sweet" marching band season.
He said the band's mission never changes, despite what the scoreboard says.
"The band never loses," he said. "If our team loses, we have to follow up with a win. If we win, then we have to sustain that win."
After every fan, football player and band member had cleared the bleachers, Bolton remained, chatting with two students in the chilled fall air.
He turned around and looked up at the bleachers that his students had filled just minutes before.
They were completely bare.
Not one kernel of popcorn littered those few seats, while the rest of the bleachers were strewn with garbage.
"See?" he said. "That's what you do. You just do the same thing over and over, every time. Then, dare to change it. They'll fight you on it because they've come to expect a certain level, too."