The Payson High School Marching Band got a fresh flourish of good news this week, with an invitation to play on national television during the Fiesta Bowl Parade in January.
The triumph comes on top of last weekend’s “excellent” rating at a band competition in Prescott, which assures the 50-student band a slot in the big statewide band playoffs in two weeks.
The band will travel to another competition this weekend, to hone its complex routine for the state competition.
Meantime, the band on Friday will appear in the final home football game of the season — a crucial game that will determine whether the Longhorns make it into the playoffs.
The Fiesta Bowl gig will give the hard-working band, supported almost entirely by community donations, a chance to strut their stuff on a national stage, noted band director Daria Mason.
“The parade will be televised,” said Mason. “The band will be on national TV!”
Ironically, Mason will not be with the band at the Fiesta Bowl parade. She will be in London watching her son John Buskirk lead an international parade as the All American Drum Major.
Whew! Tons of good things happening to a group of kids that has worked hard for the honors.
Mason said because of the complexity of the music and routine this year, she had to call for two band camps, one the week before school started in July and the second during the first week of fall break earlier this month.
“This is the first year I’ve had two band camps and extra practice nights,” said Mason.
Typically, the band meets on Tuesday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. to practice in addition to the daily, hour-long class period during the week. This year, Mason added practice sessions on Wednesday and Thursday nights as well.
The extra work has paid off.
Senior Drum Major Sierra McMartin, who shares the responsibility with Buskirk, said she could feel the moment the band had reached the sweet spot while standing six feet above the ground directing them at Prescott.
“You can see they have their heads in the game,” she said. “It unfolds before you six feet off the ground.”
The theme of the band program this year is “Apocolyptica.” The band plays out the story of the end of the world after an explosion represented by the ballooning of a huge parachute surrounded by band members waving flags to represent the fallout.
As band members play emotionally charged music, some of it written by PHS alumnus Michael Armstrong, individual band members narrate tragedy to triumph and hope.
“Unlike most other bands who play three different pop songs and move around on the field, we tell a story,” said Mason to describe why the band not only received an excellent, but also took top honors in their division for music, percussion and general effects.
Mason is most proud of the music award, however.
“It’s all about the music, really,” she said.
In order to receive top scores in music, the band had to play with emotion and care, shifting from loud to soft with the routine.
“At the last competition, the judge said we didn’t know how to play loudly, this time he said we didn’t play softly,” said Mason.
At the first band competition in late September, the band barely missed receiving the rank of excellent. After doubling down on practicing, they came out on top, despite the increased rigor of judging.
“This year, the governing body of marching bands has decided all bands are created equal ... it doesn’t matter how much you have to spend on your band, you get judged the same,” said Mason.
The competition includes three divisions based on the number of members in the band. So far, only 11 bands out of 56 have qualified for the state competition on Nov. 3. The competition will take place at Williams Field in the Valley.
Not only has the band had to contend with increased difficulty in judging, they have struggled with funding.
Each year the band has to cover tournament entrance fees, transportation, music and coaching costs.
This year that comes to a whopping $7,915.
The band does do some fund-raising by running the snack bar during the football games and Mason charges a minimal $20 fee per student for the class, but she said Credit for Kids really helps the most.
So far this year, however, those donations have not come in.
Mason said that if the band places in the top 10 out of the 56 Division III bands, the PHS marching band could win a state championship this year.
The public will have the chance to see the award-winning show this Friday, Oct. 26 during halftime at the last home football game.
“The school gave us an extra 10 minutes to perform the whole show,” said Mason.
Also at this Friday’s halftime, the graduating football, cheerleader, and band seniors will be honored at Senior Night.
Come out and support the kids who have put their heart and soul into what they do.