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Band students start early to perfect performance

link Staff photo: Kevin Wilson

Clovis High color guard members toss their flags during section practices.

Staff writer

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It’s 7:19 a.m., and students are walking between the Norvil Howell Band Hall and Leon Williams Stadium. As the sun peeks just above the home stands at the football field, Assistant Band Director Karl Powell tells students “30 seconds” to get inside the facility.

Those 30 seconds expire, and it’s 7:20 a.m. It’s still an hour before the first bell rings at Clovis High School, but doing things early is just one more expectation when you’re New Mexico’s best high school band.

It’s the daily practice for the CHS band, last year’s state champion just four days removed from its preliminary and final-round victories at the High Plains Marching Festival in Amarillo. As they’ll hear later from Director Bill Allred, “Be proud, but don’t be satisfied.” The band is three days away from its follow-up at the Lubbock Westerner.

The purple, black and white uniforms that decorate the field during Friday night games and Saturday competitions are hung up in the band hall. Instead, the approximate 250 kids are wearing a smattering of school clothes, CHS windbreaker jackets and pants and even a rare ROTC uniform.

It’s less formal, but still serious.

“Chest up high,” Travis Pruitt tells the students in formation. “You’re going to look better, you’re going to sound better.”

So far, they’ve looked and sounded pretty good with their 2014 show, “The Tree of Life.” Allred said in his 19 years at the school, this may be the best group he’s had.

Perfect? No. A few minutes in, there is the daily mix of one or two students who run in late in a panic. Almost always, there’s a story that something unbelievable happened, to which Allred nods and waves them through.

“Just tell me you overslept,” Allred says with a laugh once the student is out of earshot.

Still, perfection — or close to it — is always the goal.

“ Every practice is a little different,” Allred said. “August and September, we’re learning the program. October is cleanup and hopefully perfect repetition with minimal change.”

Early in the practice, the band breaks out into groups, bearing heavy resemblance to the Wildcats football team separating skill positions, linemen, linebackers and secondary for individual coaching.

Just past the south end zone, the percussion works on their cadences and their assignments in the show.

“It’s more notes than we’ve ever had before,” senior drummer Sebby Eisenbraun said. “This year, they’ve crammed so much into our show.”

On the other end, the color guard works on its positioning and their flag work. A flag drop is unacceptable, as it’s the visual version of an instrument being out of tune.

“The color guard is challenging,” senior Nellie Toliver said. “You have to do a lot of running, and you have to make sure everybody spins together — which is difficult when everybody is spread out all over the field.”

Allred said the practices are usually run in the same manner as a Saturday competition, of which Clovis has three remaining. In those competitions, there is a music prep and a technical prep, followed by preliminary and final performances. In practice, assistant directors individually talk with 10 kids who are in trouble academically or close to it. An ineligible student is hard to replace in band, Allred said, because everybody has a slightly different role.

During the performance runs, Allred watches 26 rows up, using a wireless mic to point out when individual students do great or need work. There are plenty of instances of each, along with instructions to never take a rep off and play loud until he tells them not to.

“People wonder why we work this hard,” Allred said. “It’s because lessons we learn here are applicable to life, absolutely.

“If you don’t show up, you don’t work hard and you don’t have a good attitude, it’s going to affect your future employment. You don’t show up in band, you lose your spot. You don’t have a good attitude, you lose your spot. You don’t pull your weight, you affect other people.”

After the Westerner, the band will compete in the Zia Marching Festival in Albuquerque and the Tournament of Bands in Las Cruces. There’s no blue trophy for a band, but the Zia Marching Festival is considered by schools to be the state championship.

After practice concludes, it’s back to the band hall. The instruments are put away for the morning, though members will work on their own later in the day. Eisenbraun said many members will practice around 10 hours a week outside of school.

“I enjoy winning, and doing what I do,” Eisenbraun said. “I enjoy the people, too; we’re one big family.”

The band hall shelves contain hundreds of trophies over the years, far too many to expect Eisenbraun to identify. But he knows the exact location of the trophies he’s been a part of winning.

“That’s last year’s Zia trophy,” Eisenbraun said with a gesture toward the north wall, “and we want to take that again.”