It’s 3 p.m. on a Friday as Band Director Jerod Smith pulls up to the football field in the blue golf cart emblazoned with “GHS Marching Band.”
Students spill out of the high school carrying various instruments, from flutes to sousaphones. All are headed for the football field for Granville High School marching band practice. It is the first game of the playoffs for the football team, and the night is just beginning for these students.
“Feel the beat in your toes or ball of your foot, not your heel!” directs Smith, shouting from atop a ladder on the field, as the students run through their performance.
The students continue to play, only to be stopped shortly and given another direction:
“There were tempo tears because people were overplaying,” Smith tells them.
They begin again, until they have to stop to practice putting their horns up to their mouths. Some students were a bit too slow about it.
As the whistle blows, Smith says: “Come up at an angle!”
Then, in quick bursts: “Horns up!”
“Got to be just like that!”
They resume playing, but not for long.
Smith stops them again. “There were a few where somebody started one of those on the wrong note and then fixed it, or started one really out of tune and then fixed it,” he says with concern. “My challenge to you is to make it perfect, where every initial attack of the note is perfect.”
The Granville Marching Blue Aces strive for perfection. This show-style marching band is different from the typical marching band because it focuses on entertainment rather than competitions, but that doesn’t mean they skimp on quality in their performances. Just the opposite, and today, they leave for Orlando, Florida, where they will show their skills during halftime show of the Pop-Tarts Bowl on Thursday evening in Orlando and in a parade through Universal Studios theme park.
Smith explains their style of band: “You learn several different half-time shows a year, generally music you hear on the radio, to provide fun and exciting entertainment for halftime. That’s the route we’ve gone, but we still try to be as high-quality as possible and really take pride in being that quality and big sound. We put our instruments down and dance for at least one song at every show and so, really being the entertainment factor – quality entertainment factor – is our driving force. We want the crowd to want to see us.”
This will sound familiar to fans of the Ohio University Marching 110, which plays popular tunes and dances and struts its way through half-time shows and parades. Marching in that band is where Smith met his wife, Alyssa. Both were in the band at Ohio University in Athens. “The love was definitely sparked by the marching band,” he says.
As the Granville band continues to practice, Smith focuses the marchers on precision playing with this simile: “At one point, it sounded like that perfect, perfect texture with that warm butter you spread on toast, and the other sounded like that cold hard butter that ripped my toast.
“Don’t rip my toast!”
The band is popular, both with students and the larger Granville community. The band ranks have swelled to 120 members in the eighth through 12th grades, and beyond school concerts and football half-time shows, the block-long band is the centerpiece of the Memorial Day and July 4th parades. Fans lining the streets applaud and cheer. Some dance along with the band.
Smith, who is in his 14th year of teaching, and his 11th year at Granville, works closely with Assistant Director Andrew Krumm to teach students and direct them during performances.
Smith performed in a show-style marching band while attending Johnstown High School with director Marc Zirille, another Ohio University graduate who continues to teach in Johnstown. Smith remembers the shift from wanting to be in the marching band to wanting to be the director of a band.
“There’s a moment when I was a junior in high school,” he says. “I was standing at the Circleville Pumpkin Show, and I said something to Marc along the lines of: ‘Mr. Z, I can’t wait until someday I bring my high school band to the pumpkin trail parade,’ and now we line our bands next to each other, and he always reminds me of that.”
Smith’s students share his love for the marching band and the entertainment aspect of this program.
See more photos by Brad BeVier of the 2023 marching band season here.
At the first playoff game against Bexley High School, they performed the Senior Show. Kate Miller, 17, a senior flute player and the field commander, talked about creating the show.
“The senior class started thinking about it at the end of last year, so the seniors are responsible for everything except the final week of polishing,” Miller said. “That meant choosing the music, creating the dance, creating the drill.”
The marching band plays pop songs that the crowd can sing and dance along with.
“There is no cooler feeling than being out on the field and the entire student section singing Nicki Minaj along with you,” Miller says.
That thrill doesn’t come without a lot of work. Students practice three times a week during football season and often don’t get home until 11 p.m. on game days. And that’s after summer band camps and a full week of 12-hour days filled with practice and fun before school starts in the fall.
Will Squire, a senior sousaphone player, as well as the assistant field commander, says:
“It’s a full-time commitment, and it’s not just stuff like in rehearsal. We practice two hours on Monday, two hours on Wednesday, and Thursday is also two hours. Then, game day on Friday is a full-day commitment.”
Smith said it’s challenging for all involved, but also rewarding.
“It is a massive time commitment,” he says. “It is no strange thing for me to go a whole week not being able to see my kids before they go to bed, so there are times it’s very challenging, but you get through it.”
One of the rewards, he said, is that his family sometimes is able to join him on trips, such as the performance this week in Florida. “They can join me for part of my job and other times, it’s just a lot of missing them,” he says.
As the pre-game rehearsal finishes, the band walks back to the practice room to share a meal together, typically supplied by a hardworking team of parent volunteers.
Outside on the lawn, some of the boys in the band throw a football, while other groups sit together and eat before the students have to get into their uniforms and line up for the game.
The connections that develop within the band inspire the students and the director through the grueling practice schedule.
“The band is a tight-knit group, in that you spend 20 hours a week on a regular week, or 30 hours a week with your leadership team,” Miller said. “There are so many small groups (within the band) that you get really close to.”
Smith says the marching band creates communities within the larger Granville community, even within his own family: “It’s [the marching band] something that frankly my family relates to. My wife and I met in band; my kids come to the game and they love it; and it’s something that is relatable.”
Under the bright lights and a star-filled sky, the stands are packed with Granville residents. The marching band, in dress blue and white uniforms, fills an entire section of the stands and begins to play “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga just as the game begins.
The crowd roars with excitement.
At halftime, the real show begins. The band plays “Starships” by Nicki Minaj, and the marchers sway their instruments in unison, their bodies and feathered hats moving as one with the beat.
The crowd goes wild as the band marches from the field, smiling and high-fiving each other.
“When you finish a show and you have the crowd cheering, it just feels like pride, and you feel like you accomplished something,” says Addie Hannig, 17, a senior mellophone player and the band president.
Throughout their performances, students often find that the relationships they build during this experience are the most meaningful aspect of being in the band.
“My favorite part is the things we do when we’re not marching,” Miller says. “I love getting hyped up before the game, the bus ride in between the games, and connecting with the people who are doing it because there’s so much time, you kind of have to.”
They also appreciate their director. “It’s been seven years of knowing him, so at this point, he’s like a friend,” Hannig says. “He is really good about pushing us to the next level at all points of everything.”
The feeling is mutual with Smith, who says, “By the time they graduate, they almost feel like one of my kids.”