Life-like props essence of Ranger showOctober 12, 2018
By ALLEN LAMAN
FERDINAND — More than ever before, high school marching bands are utilizing props to transform their performances into mesmerizing displays that look like they belong in a theater — not on a football field.
No Dubois County band exemplifies this trend more than the Forest Park Marching Rangers, a perennial powerhouse that hasn’t missed the Indiana State School Music Association State Finals contest since 2003. Amidst the 72-member band’s 2018 routine rests a barn-sized farmhouse, a towering windmill and a 1953 Chevy pickup cab with a hay wagon acting as the bed.
“It’s crazy where the activity has gone,” said Chad Gayso, Forest Park’s band director. “In so many ways, it’s not marching band anymore. At all. It’s like a stage production that just happens to take place outside on a field.”
The Marching Rangers’ props play a big role in shaping the story of their routine — which is called “In These Fields” — and follows a young couple starting a life together on a piece of land. The music also contributes to this theme, resonating with hope and optimism at the beginning with fast and energetic music, then dipping into quieter guitar and vocal solos that portray the hard times in life. The sound then surges back to a joyous pitch and ends quietly.
The handmade props are used throughout the performance, with soloists entering the farmhouse through a swinging screen door on the structure’s front porch and playing from the truck bed.
A team of about 10 volunteers started assembling the props from scratch back in June. Gayso handed them a pamphlet filled with fixtures he thought could be good for the show, and the guys got to work.
The farmhouse is 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and nearly 12 feet tall. It is incredibly detailed, all the way down to featuring window frames with curtains, metal siding and a chimney on top.
“We were given a good blueprint, No. 1,” said Matt Tretter, one of the volunteers. “We’ve got a good group of guys who work on the stuff.”
He works at MasterBrand Cabinets and led the charge for the construction of the farmhouse. His two daughters, Madison and Amber, march with the group.
The truck’s construction was spearheaded by Rodney Mason, a man Tretter described as a “car guy” who works at RideTech in Jasper. When Gayso told the guys he wanted to put a truck on the field this year, Mason’s eyes lit up. Even though it doesn’t have a working engine, you’d never know from the crowd.
Since work began on the props, the guys have dedicated three hours on two nights each week to finish them up. Gayso said that while a judge might not admit the jaw-dropping structures affect the band’s score, if there’s one area of the rubric they do play into, it’s the general effect the performance creates.
While the crew does all the work for the kids, it’s also a fun release for the builders.
“We all have our talents,” Tretter said. “Chad’s talent is to be with those kids and to teach and to get the show on the field. And this is something that he asks us to do, so this is our part. We all give our part, and this is the one thing that we can do. And we enjoy it.”
The crew also assembled sections of a white picket fence that encircle the performers during the show. The windmill that sits beside the farmhouse was purchased pre-assembled from a local seller in Huntingburg.
“This show this year has got some magic to it,” Tretter said. “We feel like it’s got a neat theme to it that kind of touches all of us and we think Chad is doing an awesome job putting it together.”
Katie Winkler, the band’s senior drum major, said she doesn’t know where the band would be without the dads who put those props together. She connects with the performance on a personal level.
“Each show is special in its own way, but I’m really, really excited for this show specifically just because it really speaks to where I’m at right now,” she said. “Kind of saying goodbye to home, about to go to college. And I feel like this is a very homey show and it relates a lot to Ferdinand and speaks a lot to the community.”
She added: “For me, it’s like accepting that I’m going to be moving on but keeping that piece of home with me wherever I go.”
The Marching Rangers compete in an ISSMA Open Class D regional competition Saturday at Evansville Central High School at 1:49 p.m. CDT.
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