UPDATE (11:43 a.m.): Correction made to description of Esprit de Corps Award.
The first month of fall is under wraps for 2011 and the Fairfax High School marching band has provided a superb soundtrack for Friday night football. However, the band has much more on its schedule than football games.
The Rebels’ band program consists of four parts: marching band, guard, symphonic and concerts band. FHS band director Alan Johnson and his 100-plus musicians travel around the region from Annapolis to James Madison University to compete against other programs across the state and nation. And so far, the beat of the Marching Rebels is pumping strong.
Fairfax has completed two of the season’s five competitions and most recently won first place in several categories in Haymarket and took home the grand daddy of them all with Grand Champion Honors at the Battlefield Battle Royale on Oct. 1.
In September, the Rebels won awards for each section and the “Esprit de Corps Award” at the USSBA Marine Corps Invitational in Annapolis, Md. This special honor is subjective, not based on scoring, and the judges gave it to FHS because they were impressed with the “professionalism and pride” the musicians displayed during the competition.
“It’s an award that the judges conferred amongst themselves about patriotism and through subjective observation,” said Johnson. “It wasn’t like part of the show was to win the award; it was kind of a nice little bonus. The students here at Fairfax really handle themselves well and I was certainly as proud of their behavior as I was of their performance, which was excellent.”
Band is structured, just as any varsity sport would be, with Johnson acting as head coach and two drum majors, Becca Welke and Jane Lee, acting as assistant coaches to the other musicians. Each section also has a leader similar to a football captain on defense or offense. Johnson said anyone from the program may join the marching band, which has 114 members including color guard this season.
“The best thing about it, is that it has members from all three of our sit-down groups,” he said. “Anyone is able to play in the marching band and we have freshmen through seniors. There are so many student leadership-type opportunities.”
When it comes to competitions, the director said he prefers to set a goal of holding himself and his students “to an extremely high standard of excellence” in order to benefit the band as a whole, as opposed to focusing on just winning.
“We’re being judged by a subjective panel of seven people who just might not like what were doing even if we’re doing it really well," he said. "The competition part takes care of itself, if you are doing it the right way.”
Travel and accommodation for more than 100 people can get costly, so the band participates in fundraising throughout the year. Each member goes door to door for “Tag Day,” asking for donations to help them compete, and the program has a booster club dedicated exclusively to helping the band. Johnson previously taught at South County and Chantilly High School and has 14 years of experience directing and says his first year at Fairfax has been incredible.
“I really enjoy the climate here and the students and parents have been exceedingly welcoming to me and the kids can really play,” he said. “I left a program I was really fond of but I knew this could end up being something very special and I think we’ve taken a few really nice steps towards that.”
Fairfax performs next at the JMU Parade of Champions at James Madison University on Saturday. The music starts at 9:45 a.m.
For more information on the FHS band program, click here.