By Dave Russell
Smoky Mountain High School’s Marching Mustangs band is galloping through a great season, entertaining at halftime of football games and taking home top awards at competitions.
Under the first-year guidance of Director Alex Larsen, the Marching Mustangs have fared well in two recent band competitions.
If the band had a trophy case, it would be overflowing with awards won this year.
On Oct. 2, the band traveled to Bristol, Tennessee to march in the “Music in the Castle” marching band festival at Tennessee High School. With only 36 members, the band is in the smallest category, 1-A.
At that competition, the Mustangs won second place drum major, third place percussion, first place color guard, second place music, second place visual, second place effect and overall second place – out of 11 bands.
The Mustangs also wowed the judges at the “Land of the Sky” marching band festival at Enka High School on Sept. 25. They won second place drum major, first place percussion, second place color guard, first place music, first place visual and finished second overall in class 1-A.
The title and theme for the band’s show is “Steampunk,” with movements titled “Inception,” “Sprockets and Gears” and “The Machine.”
“It’s pretty machine oriented,” Larsen said. “You’ll see a lot of precise, machine-like movements in the drill. The middle part becomes a little smoother, a little more fluid. The closer comes back to very machine-like. There’s a lot of gear visuals worked in there as well. What you see on the field is also reflected in the music being played. At the end of the show, you’ll hear the machine up and running again and going full steam ahead.”
Larsen credits several factors for the band’s success.
“It has mostly been because of hard work,” he said. “COVID caused some kids to drop out of band, but the ones who stayed have given it their all. From the time I walked onto the campus, I have been very pleased with the work ethic of these kids. Every single one of them is putting forth 100 percent effort.”
A sense of community among the band members is also a factor, Larsen said.
“Band is like family,” he said. “You see the teamwork and the camaraderie, you see these students step up and help lead their peers, too. Not only are they fantastic musicians and marchers, they are all fantastic people.”
Improvement is another quality Larsen looks for and has observed among his charges.
“A thing we’ve been saying all year long is that ‘It’s not about good, it’s about better,’” he said. “Just trying to improve every rehearsal, every performance, making something about the show a little bit better every time.”
The band’s final halftime performance will be Friday, Oct. 22, when the football Mustangs take on Tuscola on Senior Night.
The band has another competition this Saturday, the Chesnee Eagle Classic at Chesnee, South Carolina.
Larsen also leads the symphonic band, which plays on an indoor stage instead of a field.
That band will perform its fall concert Nov. 4 at SMHS.
The show will feature the high school concert band and elements of the middle school band, a mix of seventh and eighth graders, he said.
“The concert band is doing really well,” he said.
Larsen hopes more students participate in band in coming years.
“We’re definitely wanting to involve more students in the band program as a whole, just because of the experience it provides kids,” he said. “It’s like a second family, both in concert band and marching band. For me, being in band provided lifelong friends, a creative outlet and great experiences and memories that last a lifetime. I became a band director in part because I wanted to pass that on.”
Students or parents interested in learning more about the band program at SMHS can reach Larsen at ALarsen@jcpsmail.org or call him at the high school at 586-2177, ext. 2700.