High school football games are lots of fun to watch. Underscoring the excitement are the marching bands, which are taking to the field in Newton and Kittatinny.
Band activity was very limited last fall. This year, there are still some Covid rules, but a lot has opened up, including returning to play at away games and some band competitions. The band’s wind instruments use bell covers to protect everyone from the airborne virus.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that this year will be much closer to a regular season than last year,” said Jarred Matthes, who directs the Kittatinny Regional High School Marching Band with Lexie Straulina. “Already it is far different because we’re back to marching on the field, as opposed to last year where we had to stand still at six-foot distances and just play.”
The band has about 50 members. Matthes calls it a “bit of a building year.”
“We just graduated very large classes of over 25 band seniors the past two years, and with Covid and other changes happeningm we have some work to do to fill all those graduates’ shoes,” he said.
Kittatinny began rehearsing in July. “We typically rehearse once a week for three hours, and then in August we have six days of Band Camp,” Matthes said. During these camp rehearsals student leaders organize many activities designed to allow members to “really get to know their fellow bandmates, and to begin forming the strong bonds that will continue to develop.”
The Kittatinny Band Boosters, headed this year by president is Kristin Newell, has supported the band for 16 years. “They are an incredible group of parents that do so much to help our program run,” Matthes said. “We literally could not do what we do without such amazing parental support.”
Matthes said their primary goal this season is to have fun and let the kids be kids again. “We are focused this year more on the student experience and enjoyment over our usually somewhat more competitive season,” he said. “These students missed out on a lot the past year and a half, and we’re trying our best to make up for lost time.”
Matthes also teaches the school’s music theory courses, and conducts the K-Train Jazz Band. In the winter he conducts the orchestra, and supervises the sound department. Additionally, he is Kittatinny’s National Honor Society advisor.
Kittatinny’s drum majors, which includes senior Alyia Mahon, are selected through a weeklong audition where they have to show their skills in conducting, teaching, marching, leadership and an extensive interview with staff. Alyia has been in the band since her freshman year. She started as a color guard and then transitioned to the drum line. “Everyone, and I do mean everyone, was ecstatic to be together after a year of apart-ness,” she said. “The only way I can describe our band camp experience for this year is like a huge family reunion.”
The band will be competing at the Yamaha Cup at Met Life Stadium on Oct. 2 and at Vernon High School on Oct. 23. “After last year the band is very excited to hype up our fantastic football team and play some pep tunes for the cheerleaders to dance along,” Alyia said. “A drum major is a morale officer. We make sure everyone is okay and doing their job while making it fun. You have to put your band members first. Sometimes it’s a thankless job, but the payoff is a fantastic show, some killer pep tunes, and supporting our football team. It is an honor to be the face of an organization that pulls random strangers together into a family. We are one band, one sound, one family, always.”
Alyia is also a highly acclaimed Irish dancer and plans to be in a marching band next year at college, where she plans to major in physical therapy with a minor in music therapy.
Drum major Lorien Lattig has also been a part of the marching band since freshman year. “This year is definitely an improvement from last year,” she said. “It still isn’t 100 percent back to normal but it definitely feels pretty close.”
She said it felt great to be able to experience Band Camp again for her senior year. “I really believe that everyone had a ton of fun and didn’t think twice about the differences,” she said.
Drum major Emily Buan noted the shift to “almost practicing everything we do outside. We cannot play out instruments inside like we used to. If we do go inside, we must have masks and social distance.”
The Newton Braves
Last year, Newton High School did a very basic show with very little movement, said its marching band director, Stephen O’Toole. “We tried to figure out what social distancing meant for marching band and if it was even possible. On top of that we needed gauge what our students and their families would be comfortable with. For me it became less about creating the best performance possible and more about how to give my students a connection and an outlet.”
Like Kittatinny, the Newton Marching Band, which started practice in July, does not wear masks when performing but is prepared to make any adjustments necessary to finish its season. “I think like most high school marching bands our numbers have fallen,” O’Toole said. “We are down to 30, but they are very committed and enthusiastic. Our administration is supporting us in performing at all home and away games this season. We do plan on attending one competition this season.”
“We are continuing to encourage students to get involved with this year’s marching band,” He said. “Our band family is growing everyday since school has started.”
Newton does not have an official booster club. “We do, however, have a great group of parents that organize and make great things happen for our hard working kids,” said. O’Toole “This year one of the main organizers is Jodi Halteman.”
Newton’s show for the field is called “The Music of the Beatles.” “The goal this year is to give my students a positive and fun experience that builds their confidence and sense of connection to our community,” O’Toole said.
Band member Olivia Webster, a junior, started playing the trumpet in the summer before fourth grade and immediately loved it. “Throughout middle school, Mr. O’Toole would come to my school and give me and the other trumpet players lessons every few weeks or so,” she said. “He’s always pushed me to try new things, even if I thought I couldn’t do them, and helped me grow as a musician and as a person. He asked me about joining the high school’s marching band the summer before my freshman year, and the students there seemed like such an incredibly talented group that I knew I wanted to be a part of.”
As a freshman she appreciated the connections she made through the band. “I had friends who were upperclassmen and could help me find my way around the school if I needed it, and were always there to help, give advice, and just have fun,” she said. “I’ve made incredible friendships that continue long after the season.”
Olivia loves playing at football games. “t’s always so exciting to march onto the field together,” she said. “It always feels so good to show our classmates, teachers, and parents what we spend so much time working on.”
Drum major Zachary Halteman is a senior and has been in the marching band since the beginning of high school. “Being a drum major is more than just flapping your arms,” he said. “It is a leadership role. They have to be caring and considerate but also able to lead a rehearsal and get band members to attention. During performance, the job of a drum major is to be flashy. Drum Majors are taught showmanship and flare.”
He said members are united behind their desire to improve their skills and their undying love for music. “Marching band requires an insane amount of coordination between all of its members,” he said.
Zachary said his favorite part of band is making friends. “I also enjoy being a role model to younger students, and inspiring them to pursue being a drum major as well,” he said. “I plan to pursue marching band in college thanks to the amazing experience I’ve had in high school.”
“The goal this year is to give my students a positive and fun experience that builds their confidence and sense of connection to our community.” Stephen O’Toole, Marching Band Director, Newton High School