Munro: Clovis North band marches to victory

The Fresno BeeNovember 30, 2013 

The Grand Champion Clovis North Bronco Band and Color Guard.

SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Nicely done, Clovis North.

Final results last weekend from the Western Band Association Combined Grand Championships — the big marching-band competition held at Buchanan High School attracting schools from all over the state — put the Clovis North Bronco Band & Color Guard on top.

And in a big way.

The band snagged the top score in the 3A category in the combined grand championships on Sunday, beating out 16 other finalists. Basically, the WBA condenses its five regular competition categories, based on band size, to just two for the combined grand championships: big and not so big. Clovis North won the smaller combined category.

Not bad when you consider that the band didn't even exist seven years ago.

The Clovis Unified School District is no stranger to powerhouse bands. The Clovis West High School Marching Band has a long and storied reputation. (It opted not to compete at the WBA event in Clovis, instead traveling to a Bands of America regional competition a few weeks earlier in Long Beach, where it won the 3A competition and placed second in the overall finals.)

Because there is no single accepted state "championship" event when it comes to marching bands, there's no way, say, to definitively declare one band as the best in the Valley. Which one has bigger bragging rights: Clovis West or Clovis North? If you're into such debates, they can certainly rage. (I pose the question and ask readers to weigh in on the issue at fresnobeehive.com.)

But one thing is clear: The rapid rise of the Clovis North band — from a brand new school — is impressive, indeed.

To mark the occasion, I caught up with David Lesser, the Clovis North director. We talked about last weekend's competition and what the future holds for this hard-working band. Here are excerpts from the interview. You can read the longer version at fresnobeehive.com.

Question: Your band came in third in the 3A class on Saturday. Did you ever expect to do so much better on Sunday in the combined grand championships?

Once I spoke to the band following our performance Saturday night all of us, students and staff, were in agreement that we had a much better performance yet to give. I was hoping we could have a much stronger performance on Sunday.

The great thing about qualifying for Sunday is it was a brand new day, and a brand new competition. Usually placements remain the same from Saturday to Sunday. Maybe one or two groups will move up or down a placement. To move up two placements is rare. I think the difference between Saturday and Sunday is our band had a mediocre performance on Saturday and a great performance on Sunday.

The students arrived Sunday morning to rehearsal focused and kind of upset with themselves that they did not have their best run Saturday night. They also had the realization they were only going to perform the show one last time. Sunday's performance was the one we were all waiting for. Everything seemed to click at just the right time.

Clovis North ended up with the top score in the smaller bands category in the combined grand championships on Sunday. How significant an achievement was that?

It is surely one of the top three most significant achievements in our program's existence. To find another marching band in the area or CUSD that has won a WBA Finals or Grand Championships event you have to go back to the late 1990s when the Clovis West High School Band was a multiple year winner in the large band division.

Tell us a little about the history of the band, considering that the school hasn't even been around that long.

Clovis North has been open for seven years. The first year the school was open it started with grades 7-9. We had a seventh- and eighth-grade band with about 30 students and a ninth-grade band with 17 students, a color guard class and a percussion class. In the fall of 2008, we combined the 7th-10th graders to form our first marching band that performed parades at the Visalia and Selma Band Reviews as well as the Fresno Veteran's Parade.

Our third year, the fall of 2009, we performed our first competitive field show as a marching band including students in grades 8-11. This was a gamble, as the staff was unsure about the retention and ability of 8th grade students to handle the rigorous rehearsal schedule as well as the performance demands placed on students in this activity. It paid off the fall of 2010.

In only our school's second year fielding a marching band, we became the WBA class AA champion and managed to do the same in the fall of 2011. This also made us the first group on our campus to win a state championship. We started the school with two periods of band and two periods of orchestra. Now we have seven periods of band and over 350 students enrolled in grades 7-12 and three periods of orchestra with 150 students enrolled in grades 7-12.

Like any art form, there's an undefinable something that emerges in a great field show — a mix of technical proficiency, artistic sensitivity and emotional impact. To me, the performances that really hit home are those in which the entire band reminds me of a single organism — one that moves and plays as if it's a unified whole. What do you think makes a great band and a great show?

A great band is one that plays in tune with a great characteristic sound and moves well together. A great band is also when a group of students all commit to the same goal and take care of each other for the duration. A great show is something that has a hook and variety to it that is performed with a high level of excellence, precision and emotion. Something that will be memorable to the performer and audience as well as something that is trying to push the envelope of the activity.

What does the future hold?

In the next five years, I hope to see the Clovis North bands grow in size as well as begin to participate in festivals and competitions on a national stage. I would like to see the band grow to become the 4 or 5 A champion for WBA, and perform at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day or Rose Parade.

Anything else you'd like to say?

I would like to dedicate this marching band season to our senior band members who performed in the band's first parade as seventh graders and who had the opportunity to be members of our marching band for five years. No other group will ever have this opportunity. We earned the right to participate in the Grand Championships four times but the previous three were rained out. I am so glad the seniors were able to finish their chapter with an ending such as this. I am so proud of them and their dedication to starting something from scratch. I am privileged to have taught them for the past six years. They are truly a great group of young adults who act with a great sense of professionalism and musical maturity.

Note: The original version of this column incorrectly reported the Clovis North band director's name.

 

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6373, dmunro@fresnobee.com and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.

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