Following the beat: Philip Simmons High School's first marching band finds fun on the field
It was a hot day on the Philip Simmons High School practice fields last Thursday.
Middle and high school students were joking around with each other as they marched in unison, practicing scales, and running color guard drills. But in addition to making music – they are also making history. The group of 40 is the first marching band that Philip Simmons High, now in its second year, has seen.
Running a musical program like chorus or orchestra can already be a difficult task by itself, but how do you build a band program out of nothing? Just like an instrument, it is constructed one piece at a time. The first element is band director Leslie Phillips. With over 20 years of experience directing marching bands, and starting the first marching band program at Powdersville High School in Upstate South Carolina, she seemed like a natural fit for the school’s needs.
“I didn’t move down here until August 1 of last year,” said Phillips. “By then you really can’t plan and create a program for them to do, so we played in the stands and did a pep band last year. We started getting some interest going.”
It took a year for Phillips to compose the PSHS band of musicians from scratch.
“I spent last year recruiting, and talking to kids, and teaching them how to play. A lot of the kids that came to me are beginners,” said Phillips.
“I got out there and dragged them in from the hallways, if I had to,” she joked about the long process of tracking down students to participate.
By the time the summer of 2018 started, the band director had collected her pack of musicians and performers. From there, it was just a matter of turning them into a marching band.
“We started with band camp in July, teaching them how to march. This is your left foot and this is your right foot,” said Phillips.
Leadership is an important aspect to a marching band, but it’s only as strong as the musicians on the field performing, and the Iron Horses seem to have a strong passion for their craft.
Eighth grader Elliot Fryman has loved his time in the band and hopes to continue participating once he enters high school.
“In front ensemble, you learn so much,” he said. “I practically relearned my instrument. I think I’m a lot better than I was.”
Trumpet player Hannah Martin has been a musician for five years, but says that she had to get used to the unique challenges of a marching band.
“Playing standing still is much easier than playing while moving,” she laughed. “It’s still a lot of fun.”
“The first thing that comes to my mind about marching band is it’s great,” said bass drummer Zoe Lovett. “You make amazing friends, you love your band director so much, they work so hard for you, and when you do your first show, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
“I’ve really learned a lot from Mrs. Phillips and the way that she’s taught us,” said Kaleigh Milton. “It’s really helped build my confidence as a percussionist.”
Color guard member Rhett Renegar said that her friend “kind of forced her to,” but that she’s had a lot of fun with it. Renegar commented that her favorite part of the experience was “getting to do all of this with my friends and create something, as a whole show, that we get to show the entire school.”
Many students said that they are excited to return to the marching band next year.
Phillips recruited her daughter, Daniel Island School band director Juliana Phillips to help train the crew of newbies.
“She was in my band through high school. I taught her and now she’s teaching kids and it’s awesome,” said Leslie Phillips. “She knows what it takes to make a championship band because she’s done it.”
The marching band’s first competition will be on Saturday, Sept. 29 and the students couldn’t be more excited to show off what they can do.
“I’m really scared because I’m a nervous person, but I know we’re going to kill it,” said Renegar.
“It’s been really interesting to see how each group correlates to each other and how we all depend on each other to make one final thing,” said Bailey Pinckney.
Two of the compositions that the students have been piecing together are “Once Upon a Dream” from Maleficent and “Lux Aeterna” from Requiem For a Dream.
“It’s all about dreams,” said Phillips about the song choices. “I was thinking about the future of the band and how it should be kind of dreamy, and that we’re dreaming of our future and what it might be.”
Phillips was quick to state that the marching band was made possible by the parents, just as much as the students. In addition to parents raising money through sponsorships, the Daniel Island Community Fund pitched in a considerable amount.
“I’m very thankful for the grant that was given to me by the Daniel Island Community Fund,” she said. “In fact, I don’t think this season could have really happened, had it not been for that.”
It took work behind the scenes and in plain sight. The PSHS Marching Band didn’t come together overnight, and the elbow-grease that everyone put into the program is evident with each step. While everyone’s mind is on the next competition or the next game, they’re marching into the future at a steady beat.
“Hopefully, we’ll build a competitive program that will stand on its own and just continue to build that culture into something that this school can be really proud of, along with the community,” said Phillips.