The Baldwin High School Band of the Braves has returned to work after the COVID-19 pandemic completely put a stop to its 2020 season.
The unit, led by fifth-year band director James McMillan and assistant director Chris Ryles, has been drilling, playing and sweating to prepare for this year’s show titled, “Into the Darkness.” Humanity hit a brick wall last spring when the pandemic clamped down on the world, and that’s the moment the band is trying to capture.
“It feels like we’re finally starting to come out of it and into normal life, but we’re trying to depict the way everything just shut down so suddenly with the virus,” McMillan said. “A lot of people were in their homes and went to a dark place mentally. That’s the idea we’re trying to get across.”
The song selections fit perfectly within the show’s theme. Works featured include hits by music duo Simon & Garfunkel and rock band My Chemical Romance.
“It usually starts with a song idea,” said McMillan. “This year started with ‘The Sound of Silence.’ The quote that opens that song, ‘Hello darkness my old friend…,’ led us to our entire show. We wanted to come up with something new and fresh instead of recycling the idea for last year’s show.”
“The Sound of Silence” experienced a revival about five years ago when metal group Disturbed put out the cover of the 1966 hit. The Band of the Braves are also borrowing My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade” to really snatch audiences “Into the Darkness.”
Bringing the show to life is a group of more than 50 Band of the Braves members. McMillan said it’s the smallest group he’s had, but that’s not the biggest hurdle his band is facing this year. He has the pandemic to thank for that.
“We’re extremely young,” the director said. “We not only have one group of freshmen, but we also basically have two sets of new marchers. I want to say we’re between 70 and 75% of kids who it will be their first time marching. It is a challenge, but it also gives us a nice clean slate. We didn’t have a rookie camp. Everyone showed up at the same time. We’re learning crawl before we learn to walk before we learn to run. Slow and steady wins the race.”
Work will continue (as weather allows) in the lead-up to the start of the 2021 high school football season next month. The Band of the Braves will get a few halftime performances under its belt before competition season begins with the locally-hosted Oconee Classic Saturday, Sept. 25. The band will follow that up with three road competitions to see how well its show stacks up against competition from around the state.
“The band world is ready to come back,” McMillan said. “That’s the vibe I've gotten from band directors. We’re diving right in and trying to get back to normal for the kids.”