Staff Photo: John Bohn Percussionist Chris Morales strikes a cow bell as the Brookwood High School marching band rehearses for their performance at the Corky Kell Classic, to be held at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
Marching bands prep for Corky Kell
Grayson, North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge and Brookwood marching bands prepare for the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome.
North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge Marching Band
North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge bands prepared for the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome.
Playing in the Corky Kell Classic used to be a dream at Grayson. Now it's a tradition.
Just as the No. 1-ranked football team gets set to take on McEachern, the Rams' marching band is anxious to show off its halftime show.
"I've been here since the school opened, and for many years hoping this day would come," Grayson band director Robert Barnes said. "And this is the fourth year in a row we've gone. It's just as exciting as the first."
That's the consensus among the four Gwinnett schools who will be a part of the 21st annual event, the first time a fifth game will be on the schedule. North Gwinnett, Peachtree Ridge, Brookwood and Grayson will take the field in the Georgia Dome as band members adjust to the security, seating, acoustics and turf. The bands also have seven minutes to perform, instead of the typical 10.
"It's a big thrill," North band director Brian Lambeth said. "And heck of a lot of fun to watch it on the kids' faces, especially the freshmen."
Band directors and students at every school said the Gwinnett schools support each other and are proud of the county's representation.
"It's cool to see all the people that are there, all the different schools," Brookwood senior trombonist David Gray said. "There's definitely some competition there, but I think there's a lot of camaraderie between everybody."
Peachtree Ridge senior drum major Giovanna Marrin said the spacious facility and echoing acoustics make it difficult to keep the band on the same beat.
"We really have to count one, two, three, four over and over in our head," she said. "It's our job to keep them in time and keep them calm too, because they look to our reactions, 'Oh, are they freaked out, or are they calm?'"
Added Peachtree Ridge senior Chandler Greer, "It's amazing to watch how your feelings reflect how the band plays."
Peachtree Ridge band director Andy Edwards said it's difficult to perform in the Dome, because sound is difficult to hear.
"It's kind of like listening to static and trying to keep everything together," Edwards said. "Everything kind of meshes together. It requires a lot of watching and discipline to make sure you know what's going on. (The drum majors) kind of block everything out and make sure they can hear the song in their head, and (what they) expect it to sound like. They get that first splash of sound."
Several band directors noted how the sound varies from the field to the seats, and is affected by how full the stadium is during a performance.
North senior Amber Kidwell said the student section is more excited in the Dome, but that also motivates her.
"It's really exciting first from a performance standpoint, because how you sound in the Dome is a lot different than your home stadium," she said. "It's a lot more crisp, it's a lot more professional. It makes you want to do better because people can actually hear everything."
Because of the venue, security measures limit what the band members can bring in the stadium, and how fast that happens. Lambeth said last year the North band waited in the parking lot for about 30 minutes. While it's difficult to carry water in, Lambeth said the best thing to be is flexible and be prepared for a change in plans.
But since all of the schools have sent teams, cheerleaders and bands to the event before, they understand the logistics of moving 10 football teams, 10 cheerleading squads and 10 bands, most with more than 100 members, in and out of the Dome.
For many of the seniors, who have played in the Dome before, they're excited to see wide-eyed freshmen walk through the tunnel to the field for the first time. Ohers, like Barnes, the self-described biggest football fan at Grayson, are anxious to see several ranked football teams in action.
"It's a big deal because not every school gets to go to the Dome," Grayson senior clarinetist Gabby Diaz said. "So it's pretty awesome."