Marching Wildcats prepare for regionals

Christine Stephenson/The Herald
Jack Gauker, second from left, rehearses with other clarinet players in the Jasper marching band Tuesday evening. The Marching Wildcats are preparing for the ISSMA regional competition this weekend.


JASPER — Fewer than five minutes remain until the Marching Wildcats’ rehearsal is set to start, and students are still pushing drums and carrying color guard flags out the back door of Jasper High School into the parking lot. Others are still shuffling through the hallway outside the band room, past the formidable array of awards hung on the wall.

Outside, students are rolling massive tree stump props out of a trailer, part of the design for the band’s show this year, titled “This Bitter Earth,” a five-minute show about Mother Nature.

Band Director Chad Gayso is raising himself through the air on a scissor lift so he can see all of his students at the same time — about 130 of them.

“We’re starting at the end of part one, beginning of part two,” he says at 6 p.m. sharp. Immediately, the band is ready — no additional instruction, no warmups, no chatter.

“Set!” the drum major calls out.

At Jasper High School, the marching band carries a legacy. Last year was the first in about 30 years that the Marching Wildcats didn’t attend the annual Indiana State School Music Association finals contest, as it was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Throughout 2020, the band continued rehearsals but instead used the down time to perfect its football halftime show, bring its younger members up to speed and do some fine-tuning that it might not have as much time for in a typical year. Now, they’re back and ready to go.

“So far this year, I’ve been really happy with how things are going,” Gayso said. “I think with not getting to compete last year, they just really missed that part of it. So I think finally having that piece back is really important to a lot of them as a motivator.”

At the beginning of Tuesday’s rehearsal, the band plays for about six minutes uninterrupted before Gayso begins to regularly cut in with feedback.

“Remember, volume is not priority here,” he says. “Cleanliness is.”

“Make sure you’re flexing and pointing that toe out.”

“Smooth your marching out so the tone sounds a little better.”

The students practice for about an hour straight with no complaints, at times playing the same four notes over and over again for several minutes-long stretches. When Gayso lets them take their first break, seniors Izzy Lorey, Ashanti Lucas and Jack Gauker immediately gravitate toward each other. Izzy and Ashanti are in the color guard, while Jack plays the clarinet.

When Izzy was younger, she’d watch the color guard perform with the band at football games and think to herself, “I want to do that.” When Ashanti was in fifth grade, she and her friend also watched the color guard at games and decided it was their dream to be in it together. In eighth grade, they tried out together and made the team.

Izzy said she and the other seniors especially are excited to get back to competing this year after a year of cancellations.

“It’s nice that we have something to march for this year, that it’s not just performing,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love performing. But it’s nice that this year is going to really mean something.”

Jack, who started with band in middle school, was in online school last year and wasn’t able to perform at all.

“I really loved music growing up, and I’m just really glad I did this,” Jack said. “I’m really excited to be back.”

Like many after-school activities, marching band is more than just an extracurricular, the seniors agreed. It’s like joining a family — kind of like being in a cult, Izzy joked, but in a good way.

Jack explained the traditions of the clarinet circle before contests, where everyone gathers together and hold pinkies, listen to encouraging words from the seniors, then spin around and do the Macarena. It gets everyone in the right mindset before competition, Jack said, and reminds everyone that they’ve got each other’s backs.

“We just try to hype each other up,” Izzy said.

The Marching Wildcats will compete Saturday in the ISSMA regionals for Class A and B at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, where they will compete in Open Class B.

Ultimately, the band aims to compete well in every competition, especially the ISSMA state finals, and live up to the legacy set before them. But the goal to perform well is unspoken, Gayso said.

“Not one time this season has anybody brought up the whole 30-years-in-a-row thing or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just a history of excellence ... They work hard and do what they’re supposed to do, and they’re talented. It just kind of takes care of itself.”

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