Camp 2015- The Value of White

This is the view from Kelly Conlon's Drum Major podium, today- NOT at dusk but this afternoon.

Due to the crazy-insane chilly weather this week, the kids are dressed for warmth rather than visibility. But this is a great opportunity to point out the difficulty of visualizing field lines and formations when kids are dressed in dark clothing.

White shirts really pop, especially on sunny days. White makes it very easy for those on scaffolding to see how accurate the lines are. They also help the kids judge their own position based on someone standing many yards away.

We plan to have a second round of practice shirt sales in September but any white shirt will do. Once the weather's back to normal, the white shirts will come back out again and I'm sure the directors will breathe a sigh of relief..


Camp 2015: Tuesday Morning

5:20am Drum Line Wake Up Call!

The students grumble about it but they love having their beds drummed upon by the drum line. Such a fun tradition!

Then at 7am, the Polar Plunge.

Yes, even though it was only 48 degrees outside, some students and a few chaperones jumped bravely into Torch Lake while the rest of us stayed bundled in our sleeping bags, trying to nab a few extra minutes of sleep.

It was a good morning!!!

Camp 2015: Skit Night

For the first time in band camp history...

Saxophones take top honors on skit night!

Bonbright was filled with laughter and chaos as the sections performend their skits which included game shows, mock sectionals, floating boats, and beauty pageants.

Mr Steele was crowned Avant Guard Pageant Princess and cried his way through the speech!

The saxophones stole the show however with John Brenner adding his zany sense of humor, leaving us in tears with laughter!

Stay tuned for photos and videos in the coming days on skit night!

Camp 2015: Sunday & Monday

Sunday Evening Rehearsal –

Our kids LIVE for drill! The marchers were learning their drill and looking like pros by the end of the night. There were only a few wipe outs and the kids were still smiling until dusk! Their final run through of the music was AMAZING leaving a couple of us with tears in our eyes and goose bumps on our arms; it’s going to be a great show!

The Coveted Paper Plate Awards – Sunday night we gathered in the mess hall for good old fashioned sundaes and the presentation of the Paper Plates Awards by the Senior class. There is always lots of laughter and excitement when these coveted awards are passed from one marcher to the next. Justin Gembarski (sousaphone) led the charge taking home 3 paper plate awards for the evening while Cody Asher (trumpet) and Emily Granzow (guard) were named the cutest couple! There were lots of hugs and kisses on the cheeks (and a few tears from the senior moms) and everyone had a great time! These kids are so awesome and supportive of one another!



Today brought a new motivational phrase to band camp when Zach Gdowski proclaimed during warm-up exercises “If the band moms can do it you can”! Yep, several band moms and one band dad were working out with the students on the field this morning and while our cores were a little shaky and our leg lifts were a little low, we held our own and gave the kids something to strive for… to be better than the band moms!

It’s raining and cold again today on Torch Lake and the students were a little slower getting out of bed this morning but our spirits are high and rehearsals are going well. Tonight brings skit night and the planning and practicing has begun! The phrase “we are going to give other sections shade” resonated throughout breakfast and in the absence of actual sunshine, I realized that ‘shade’ is this generations version of ‘dogging’ or ‘dissing’ so the shade should be interesting!J

The food is great, the kids are awesome and this is the most beautiful place on earth; your people are in good hands and we chaperones are thoroughly enjoying our time with them!

Camp 2015: Rec-re-a-shee-oan

3:00 p.m. Rec Time: or as Doug Heffernan would call it – REC-RE-A-SHEE-OAN

Not wind, nor rain, or cloud sky could keep these kids away from their play time! Yes, the students took to the water and the beach; yes, the students took advantage of the camp store being open and yes, the students created a new game which they call: Roof Ball! The object of room ball is to bounce a ball off the roof of a cabin and the kids take turns hitting it while not letting it touch the ground. Our kids are very innovative as the muddy ground would not allow for soccer but the creation of Roof Ball made the masses happy!

There were some students who opted to catch up on the reading or some much needed sleep but everyone enjoyed their rec time and a hot meal of chicken patties, tater tots, salad and chocolate cake for dessert before heading back onto the field tonight to learn drill.

The laughter around camp has been ramped up today. The kids really begin to bond here at camp and learn how to rely on one another for reminders to be on time, change their socks, take their flip folios and refill their water jugs. I love watching the upper classmen take ownership of the first year marchers and watching each student become more confident in their roles. Everyone has a place here and each is just as important as the other and I don’t think that’s ever more evident as it is here at band camp!

The students will rehearse from 6:00 – 9:00 tonight. At 9:30 we will enjoy an ice cream social and our annual paper plate awards which the kids love!

It’s been a great day filled with a lot of energy and the kids are, as always, amazing people! We love our Dragons!


Camp 2015: Freshman and Squirrels and Bugs

Oh My!

First night at camp and the action continued!

Cabin 9 was alive with girls chatting far beyond lights out.

Cabin 10 was abuzz with bugs and freshman screams. This was followed by a 2:30am squirrel visitor rifling through backpacks and luggage.

Maize and Blue cabins were quiet as mice.

The boys who always remain calm, cool, collected, AND entertained by an evening full of screams filtering down from the girl's camp:


Good times, good times...



Camp 2015: Saturday Mixer

Find Your Family

For Saturday evening's Forced Fun Mixer, the students were each given a piece of paper with a name and number on it.

The name was their character and the number was how many characters they had to find from their family.

Velma needed to look for Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, and Daphne. Once their family was complete they had to sit for several minutes  to learn 5 new things about everyone else in the group.

It was a great icebreaker and the students really enjoyed it.

Or so it seemed- there wasn't any eye rolling...


Camp 2015: Arrival Day

Such Energy!

133.5 students* piling off of three buses and ready for action.

Following a five-ish minute tour by Mr. Steele, the kids unpacked and enjoyed some free time before dining on salad, hot dogs, mac n' cheese, and cherry cobbler.

First rehearsal tonight and they sound fantastic!

Next up... Forced Fun in Bonbright! Should get interesting with the game they will be forced to play!

Great kids, no breakdowns yet, a couple of freshman were ALMOST late to dinner (which will NEVER happen again!)


Bethany couldn't make the trip but she's there in spirit. Get well soon!!!

Camp 2014: Skit Night

Skit night takes planning and preparation. For about a month, the sections brainstorm ideas and analyze the merits of each.

And then at the last minute, they change their mind and do something completely different.

The skits almost perfectly reflect the personality of the instrument.

  • The drum majors used the time to give instructions.
  • Guard (once again) found a way to work doing the splits into their routine. Dang, they’re flexible.
  • The flutes pour their heart into drama and wrote an entire scene from Hogwarts.
  • Clarinets gave us a sweet romantic moment between two loves who aren’t allowed to sit together.
  • The saxes had at least two skits going on at the same time. Maybe three.
  • Trumpets clowned their way through a big-band game hunt in Africa.
  • The mellos brilliantly caricatured each other and quietest kid in the section revealed a streak of dark comedic genius.
  • Baritones? We know they were there, but darned if anyone can remember what they did.
  • The trombones stole the show with precisely timed, death defying horn swinging.
  • Sousas roasted their section leader proving that they spend far too much time unsupervised on the backside of the field.
  • Battery seemed genuinely surprised to find out it was skit night.
  • And the front ensemble… okay, you have to understand that the front ensemble doesn’t get out of their cages very often. They march to the beat of a different xylophone. As usual, the skit was kinda creepy.

From an adult standpoint, skit night is anything but premium entertainment. But it’s fun to watch the kids poking fun at each other. Even if we don’t understand why Josh McMahon is wearing a tutu and firing a guard rifle at the audience.

Camp 2014: In the Dark

It was 9:12pm last night and the kids were just coming off the field. Our camp is in the middle of the woods, so the practice field was pitch black. They squeeze every bit of marching they can into the day.

Mr. Steele gave them the summary & pep talk before dismissal.

"I want you to know that while we often run this late, you won’t always be marching in the dark like this. The school has lights…”


School lights aren’t the only thing that keeps them from marching in the dark.

The chaperones have dealt with a lot crisis this week- some big, some small.

From the kid who had no idea what he was signing up for, to the girl in her fourth year questioning the sanity of it all. Friends who bicker, ankles that swell, and the sunshiny student who really, really, really needs a nap.

Monday night, they’ll be back on the home turf. Rehearsing under the school lights.

The following week, it’s back to school with well-lit hallways and rules for safety.

But for a few more hours they’re marching in the dark.

And the chaperones will be there with flash lights, lanterns, and glowsticks shaped like magical wands.

When you arrive on Saturday for the parent show or when the buses pull up to the high school, please hug your chaperone. Thank them for spending a week drying tears and mopping up red kool-ade. They’ve handled bloody noses, ohmygoshmymomsgonnakillmeitsabrandnewphone (more than once), and a particularly large breed of spider who tends to hang out in bras.

Band chaperones are the awesomest.

Camp 2014: Musclebound

One of my cabin girls put on jeans for the very first time in months last night.

"These are my very favorite jeans and I haven’t worn them since school let out and they’re so soft and comf… wait, umpf… ohmygosh these pants are so tight! Why did I pack these stupid skinny jeans?”

She got ‘em up and buttoned… eventually.

"Dang. It’s all this marching. My quads and calves are gettin’ ripped. I gotta get bigger pants.”

Keep in mind, in my cabin emergency preparedness plan, this is the 12.5 pound waif whom I’d strap down first in a wind storm…

But she isn’t completely wrong.

Her marching muscles are a lot bigger than they were when she climbed on the bus last Sunday.

The kids have learned a lot this week. About marching, about drive, determination, and how many meals you can throw Monday’s leftover chicken into.

They’ve all eaten a can of marching band spinach and they’re stronger than when they left.

"Ohhhhhhh, so this is how it feels to be all buff and super heroish…”


Oh, and on behalf of the band boosters- let me officially apologize for all the naked marchers coming home tomorrow. They've outgrown all their clothing. Marching fitness has it’s price.

I’ll meet you all for school shopping in the big & tall section on Sunday.

Camp 2014: Leave No Man Behind

I said in an earlier post that the new drill is hard.

That’s pretty much an understatement. It’s fast tempo music with complicated fingering and high contrast dynamics, combined with quick stepping changes in direction.

Basically, the music is challenging and the choreography is challenging… put it all together and you get? A heart-attack.

I’ll be honest- the clarinets are struggling. And they all know it. I have three of them in my cabin and they’re all thinking about it. How to get better, how to think clearer & breathe quicker, searching their drill sheets and notebooks for some key they might have missed.

They practiced at rec time with Mr. Critchett. Not just the few clarinets who needed the special instruction- the whole section stayed for extra rehearsal.

Because you don’t leave your friends when they’re struggling.

This is what band camp does. You won’t get this at practice on the home turf. Here, they’re surrounded by kids with a drive for excellence. There’s no going home at night and unplugging. For one week, it’s band 24-7.

Top level performances require this kind of intense rehearsal.

But they also require the kind of bonding that is happening right now in the clarinet section. And the trumpet section. And the trombones and the mellos and the battery and the list goes on and on...

They’re pulling and pushing each other towards a higher level of excellence.

Someplace they can’t get to on their own.

Band camp. It’s a togetherness thing.

Camp 2014: Easy Peasy?

Up until yesterday, I had campers telling me that "drill this year is more challenging, but MY drill is pretty easy.”

That all changed yesterday with the latest drill update.

Suddenly, they’re forced to scramble to make their dots, shift direction, snap and twist, all while playing the right notes, in tune. And did I mention the song in question is pretty darned fast?

Yeah, marching band ain’t so easy anymore.

But despite the gauntlet laid down by the director’s yesterday, kids still found time to leap THE WALL.

Yes, they were tired last night. I’m sure some of you got texts that reflected that. But they were also pretty darned proud of themselves. They drilled hard and finished in the dark, but they did it.


Achievement. It’s the best self-esteem builder ever.

Camp 2014: Band Camp at Work-

A message from one of our chaperones-

I am a cabin Dad and I would like to share something that I witnessed during rec time yesterday.

During rec time (3-5) I was laying in the cabin, I was fatigued and wanted to be horizontal for a while. Our cabin is right on the beach, there is a lot activity around at rec time. Swimming, volleyball, tetherball, and spectators right out side the front screened windows. 

This story is about the two freshman boys in my cabin. The freshman are usually hesitant and stand offish, as were my two. They were the only two hanging in the cabin, watching and taking in what was going on outside. This lasted for a good while. 

They did eventually go out to return later with about a half hour left in rec time. But with them were two other boys. I just observed for a while -part of our gig. I could tell by the conversation that they were new acquaintances. I was witnessing a get-to-know you conversation. It was a little uncomfortable and a little forced. But all involved were working it, making it happen. Good for them!

This is part of what Band Camp is all about. Not only working them to the brink, and jamming the show into their heads, but also building relations and friendships that gel into the supportive band family that we have.This will be one of my favorite memories of working with the kids to carry with me. I’m glad I am able to share it with you.

Go Dragons!

Camp 2014: The Subsets of 23

Every year there is one section of choreography that takes your breath away.

Parents will watch for it at every performance, they move to the edge of their seats when it’s coming, and they cheer when it goes off without a hitch.

I’m not talking about the heart-yanking scenes like the angel wings in The Kindling or the Still, Small Voice of Calm in Ritual.

What I mean is a technical moment in the drill where the band does something amazing. The way Robin Hood did handsprings through the entire brass section or when Bella chased the girl through weaving waves of striped shirts.

We have found this year’s moment. The chaperones cheer (quietly) every time the kids do it. And they did it a lot yesterday. It only gets more gasp-worthy.

The kids call it "the subsets of 23” which won't mean anything to you.

So watch for the point when the band square dances. It’s a do-si-do move with the woodwinds moving up and towards the front sideline. There are at least 5 diagonal lines of flutes and clarinets that do-si-do around each other in a crisp and quick (blink and you'll miss it) moment of pure marching band genius.

My description sounded like mush, but you’ll know it when you see it because you'll be on your feet whooping!

Dang! These kids are awesome!

Camp 2014: Scaling the Wall

Yesterday was the tough day.

The second full day of band camp is hard. It’s where kids bump up against THE WALL.

"Oh yeah, now I remember why I almost didn’t sign up for marching band again.”

"I’m sore now, how much worse is it going to get?”

"What in the heck did my mother sign me up for?”

"I thought this was going to be more fun…”

For each kid there’s an almost-to-the-breaking-point point. They’re tired, their feet hurt, they haven’t had a Cherry Pop-tart with a Mountain Dew chaser in 3 days.

"Is marching band worth it?”

Each kid has to find the answer for themselves. No one can answer it for them- not their friends, not their parents. It has to come from somewhere deep inside. Call it their soul, their gut, or their little twisted marchingbandrocksforever heart.

"Am I willing to pay the price?”

And once they find the answer, they easily leap over the wall.

Today is the day that they leap. They all leap. Some leap higher than others, but they all make the jump. Even the stragglers eventually make it over the wall.

It’s great fun to watch. Wednesday is a good day. The smiles are bigger, the heads are held higher, and they fist bump or high five each other until their hands are pink. Today is the day when newbies and veterans from every section and group meld into one giant green monster we call the Dragon Marching Band.

Today the Dragon will ROAR

Camp 2014: Bonfire Night

Last night was bonfire night. Students sit in an amphitheater which is perfect for telling and listening to stories.

Senior students are the featured speakers at the bonfire. One by one they all get up and tell their own band story.

Band story? It's usually about why they joined band but it always includes what they've learned or advice for making the best of this upcoming season.

And whoa! Your kids are impressive.

One student explained how he was "too cool to join marching band" his freshman year but spent most of the summer watching his best friends have the time of their lives in the high school parking lot. He joined the prop team immediately, just to feel a part of the group and marched the very next season."You'll never get anything done if you just stand on the sidewalk and watch."  This kid is soooo incredibly ready for college, I can't imagine that he won't be a leader someday. 

Another student explained that marching band has given her what she thinks is a key to life. "Band gives me challenges, big ones and little ones. Each time I succeed, it's because I gave it my all. And if I don't succeed, when I look back, it's usually because I slacked off."  She learned that in 9th grade... how many 45 year olds do you know who still need to learn that lesson?

And then there was my son who said that marching band is important because it's the only place where you can beat a gong as loudly as you want.

I know, I'm still working on him...

Band kids. They are the absolute best kids in the world. If you haven't yet volunteered for a band event, please do so today. Get to know these kids. They're truly amazing.