Percussion instruments rattle teeth, bellowing tubas punch through chests and the room vibrates with energy as the performances reach a crescendo.
Students swing their instruments to the beat, laughing as they nail a particularly difficult tempo or note. The drab gray Academy of Richmond County classroom struggles to contain the roughly 60 students playing their instruments and choreographing movements as more continue to trickle inside.
Some might look in the room and see a typical high school band at a typical practice, but it’s much more than that. It’s a called a “mass band,” a school-spanning marching band that is the first of its kind in Augusta.
Masterminded by four local high school band directors and designed to promote unity among area marching bands, this program reaches across school lines in order to form “a true family” for teenagers who love music.
“We do compete amongst ourselves, but at the end of the day it’s all about the music,” ARC band director Marcus Chester said.
“We all stick together. We’ve become closer. This band is the best way to express that love.”
The students involved in the mass band come from high school band programs from Richmond County and South Carolina. Unified, these schools can perform marches, play songs and share resources at a level impossible for their individual programs.
INSPIRED BY SIMILAR mass band programs in Louisiana, Chester and his fellow band directors sought to forge the same kind of bonds with other local schools.
“We saw a mass band from Louisiana play at a competition, and they went over fantastically,” Chester said. “And then the other directors and I started talking about trying to start one here. Augusta has such talented young musicians here. We started to think ‘why not us?’ ”
When Chester and the other band directors began to organize a mass band program, student response “flabbergasted” them.
“The first day, 86 kids showed for the first meeting. You could tell the idea really resonated with the students in all of our schools,” Chester said. “Right now, we will probably have a little under 100 students participating. When it comes to teaching the youth music fundamentals, it doesn’t get better than this.”
Chester also hopes that the mass band program will help dispel stereotypes associated with marching band programs.
“I hope this can bring in some good news to be associated with our schools here,” Chester said. “We want to show our community that marching bands can have a positive impact on our young ones. We want to show positive people, having positive experiences and doing positive things.”
SEVERAL HIGH SCHOOL students involved in the mass band program agree with Chester. Kelse Horton, a 17-year-old ARC student
and clarinet player, said the mass band program introduced her to new friends she would not have met otherwise.
“It’s been a great way to meet new people with similar interests,” Horton said. “When you play against each other at a football game, you never really interact with each other. It’s great to be able to work together in the same room, like we’re one huge band.”
Brett Sembach, a 17-year-old Hephzibah High School saxophone player, said the mass band program is preparing him for playing in college-level marching bands.
“I’m going to be marching at Southern Polytechnic State University next fall, and the mass band is much more like the environment I will be performing in once I get there,” Sembach said. “I hope they continue to do it on into the future for those who come after us.”
While interested students have to be involved in a school band program to join the mass band, those who join do not have to pay any dues beyond travel fees for competitions.
The mass band will get its first challenge Saturday when it travels to Clark Atlanta University to perform during the university’s Band Brawl fundraiser.