Albert Lea High School’s marching band gears up for upcoming parade season

Published 3:50 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

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By Abigail Chalmers

When the Albert Lea High School Concert Band performs, it is the culmination of weeks of hour-long rehearsals and practice. However, when the Albert Lea High School Marching Band marches in its summer season parades, the performance is the result of one week of intense, focused training.

Fifty-nine students join high school band director Suzanne Mauer, who boasts 11 years of marching band experience, in the parking lot every morning in the days leading up to the band’s short, yet strenuous parade season. From 8 to 11 a.m., the band members power through nonstop rehearsals to prepare their drill for the thousands of people that will watch them perform.

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Though everything seems to come together in a week’s time, the final product that parade-goers see is truly a months-long process.

Mauer first began planning in March, deciding what song to select. Ultimately, she landed on “The Raiders’ March,” composed by John Williams as the Indiana Jones theme song and in honor of the 2023 film release of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” The band last played “The Raiders’ March” in 2016, so Mauer was familiar with the routine.

“I didn’t have to start quite as early this year because we have done it,” she said. “I had to adapt it because there were a couple of things I didn’t like from the last time we did it, but that was nice because it didn’t take me quite as long as I didn’t have to write one from scratch.”

Mauer herself creates the entire band drill and the color guard routine.

“The drill sort of appears in my mind as I’m thinking about it,” she said, adding that this year it was a challenge visualizing the end of the show. “I was in my living room with pop bottles on the floor literally having pop bottles doing the drill. I had to act it out so that I could figure out if it actually was going to work.”

The process continues through the end of the school year when Mauer’s bands begin rehearsing the selected music in class and leave for the summer having been familiarized with the song.

The color guard and drumline begin rehearsing their routines about 3 1/2 weeks before the rest of the band joins to help things run more smoothly during camp. Mauer teaches the color guard their routine, which allows them to practice individually and for her to focus on the instrumentalists instead. The drumline rehearses early because they must learn and perfect the drumline cadences to play throughout most of the parade route. She also meets with the drum majors and teaches them the drill beforehand so that they can begin to practice conducting. This year’s drum majors are graduated senior Angel Hernandez and rising senior Aidan Collins.

Then, when band camp week rolls around, it’s a five-day grind for everyone involved. First-time marchers arrive on Monday morning along with the drum majors and section leaders to learn the steps and basic marching drills. Then, on Tuesday, the rest of the group joins in, and they begin putting the show together. Mauer said she loves “seeing everyone make that much progress in a week.”

“It’s so dramatic from Monday when they don’t know how to march to Friday when they’re doing this whole thing,” she said.

While the band spends a significant amount of time practicing marching, they also spend a great deal of time rehearsing the music. Mauer places great emphasis on how the band sounds while they are marching, noting that the audience “can hear us much longer than they can see us.”

The finished product is a polished routine that students proudly present to the communities of Albert Lea, Austin, Blooming Prairie and even Valley Fair-goers. It also becomes a lifelong memory that the members get to share with one another. Color guard member Joey Maiden joined the group last year, fulfilling a childhood aspiration.

“I just always thought it was really cool when I watched [the color guard] in the parade,” Maiden said. “I always loved that as a little kid.”

She said that she loves that the color guard is a “tight-knit group.”

“I’ve had so much fun meeting people that I never would’ve talked to before or knew but didn’t know very well,” she said. “That’s been so much fun.”

Drum major Hernandez also achieved a longtime dream when he became a drum major last summer. He grew up in Orange County, California, and was inspired by the drum major there his freshman year.

“The drum major over there was super cool, and I liked the leadership role that he had,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to aim for that.”

He loves when the drill comes together and the band gets to perform for the Albert Lea community, saying that “the crowd is the whole reason we’re doing it.”

“[The Third of July Parade] is the big thing that the band is known for,” he said. “We have to really present well as a band, so that’s what I’m really excited for.”

The band will gather at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds on Monday evening for the Albert Lea parade before making the treks to Austin and Blooming Prairie on the Fourth of July itself. In previous years, Mauer would make a performance-time decision on how much of the marching band uniforms the band could wear according to Minnesota State High School league heat index requirements, but this year, she has decided to scratch the uniforms entirely.

She said that the uniforms are growing old and beginning to fall apart, adding that previously she had to do much of the shortening and lengthening of jacket and pants cuffs herself just for it to be too hot at parade time, making the use of uniforms a costly and low-yielding use of her time.

The color guard will still wear decorative costumes, and the rest of the band will sport the matching marching band T-shirts and black shorts. This will allow the marchers to stay cooler and conserve their energy for the draining run of parades that they have before them.

“Sometimes that’s what people don’t realize,” she said regarding previous years of uniform usage. “We might be able to wear the full uniform in Albert Lea, but that puts us this much further back hydration-wise for the Fourth. We’re in front of [the crowd] at that time, and that’s what they’re thinking about, but I’m thinking about the rest of the 24 hours where we have to continue marching two other places.”

In the future, Mauer hopes to implement some other kind of heat-friendly, yet cohesive, uniform, possibly with polo shirts or other matching apparel. For now, though, the band will perform in their “The Raiders’ March” T-shirts with the focus on the way they sound and how they march together.

The group will kick off the Albert Lea parade, which begins at 6 p.m., immediately following the law enforcement and emergency vehicles. The next day, they will participate in the Austin and Blooming Prairie parades before traveling to Valleyfair on Thursday for a short parade around the park followed by free time at the park.