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High school bands compete at the county fair

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GOUVERNEUR — The crowd cheered to the sound of drums booming and horns blaring as six schools gathered to compete in “Band Day” at the St. Lawrence County Fairgrounds Wednesday.

“Marching around to the sound of the crowd and the cheers, it gives you cold chills. It is just an amazing feeling,” Nathalie E. Barr, 16, rifle twirler with the Heuvelton Bulldogs, said before the afternoon competition.

For years, St. Lawrence County Fair committee has designated a “Band Day” in honor of high school bands across the county. It’s an entire day of competition that begins with an out-of-uniform performance, Peck Award competition in the afternoon and the Firemen’s Parade in the evening.

“It’s a long day and you have to be prepared,” said Blue Devil trombone player Shauna F. Rickett, 18. “You have to get a good night sleep. You got to eat a good breakfast. You have to get the in the right mindset.”

While there are no section leaders in OFA’s marching band, Ms. Rickett says the younger kids look to her and other seniors to “teach them the ropes.”

“I try to pep up my band and be spirited. That usually gets us going,” Ms. Rickett said. “There are a lot of new, younger kids. All of the seniors try to get them to feel comfortable so they don’t feel out of place.”

Sylvia M. Nentwick, 18, a piccolo player with the Gouverneur Wildcats, said her favorite part about participating in marching band is being able to teach the younger kids how to “act, play and march.”

“It’s about teaching them how to become better players and marchers,” Ms. Nentwick said. “That’s my favorite part-inspiring them to be the best they can be.”

For many students, “Band Day” marks the last performance of the marching band season and their high school marching band career. Ms. Rickett said she has been marching with the OFA Blue Devils Marching Band since the seventh grade.

“I am really sad that I have to leave,” Ms. Rickett said. “I know I will be having new experiences in college but this is my marching band and I love them. I just want to play the best as long as I can. I want to give my team the best that I can the crowd the best show that I possibly can.”

Marching Bands are a source of pride and identity for St. Lawrence County communities. But keeping marching bands thriving in the midst of recent budget cuts and increase state mandates can be tough, band directors say.

Richard R. Haynes, band director and Director of performing arts at Gouverneur Central School, said this year it is even more difficult because the marching band now has 130 members–the highest Gouverneur has ever seen and the largest marching band in the county.

“Typically we have 80 to 90 kids,” Mr. Haynes said. “It’s funny when usually that sort of thing happens more kids seem to want to get involved. Not only are we seeing less support at the state level but we have more and more kids that want to get involved and that is a real challenge.”

“It’s tough right now,” Mr. Haynes said. “It’s tough to be an educator right now, but it’s especially tough to be a music educator right now with the state finances the way they are. It puts a real strain on your music program.”

John E. Cole, Ogdensburg Blue Devils band director, said interest in the band is growing among younger members despite a difficult economy.

“We have a couple of years where we struggling,” Mr. Cole said. “We have had a lot of parent support that has stepped up in the last couple of years, which has been awesome. The school has always been very supportive. It’s been great. It’s just with the budget cuts across the board it is difficult. The parent group has really stepped as an entity that has helped up stay afloat. The kids responded well. We have a lot of new talent that is coming in.”

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