Every morning, if you are close enough to campus, you can hear the sweet sounds of the Mustang High School Marching Band rehearsing for one of their many performances throughout the fall.
At 6:50 a.m. the Broncos crank it up. Music and movement. Sights and sounds. All of the moving pieces come together as the ensemble prepares.
Ryan Edgmon sits just below the press box at Bronco Stadium with a microphone, directing traffic.
Much like the football team it supports on Friday nights, the members of the MHS Marching Band must put in an immense amount of work if they want to reap the rewards of success.
For Edgmon and his students, the reward is improvement.
And with the 2023 Oklahoma Bandmasters Association 6A-1 and 6A-2 State Marching Contest set for Saturday at Broken Arrow High School, Edgmon believes his ensemble has achieved that goal.
“I hate to say we hit the target, but we really did,” said Edgmon, who is in his 13th year as the MHS Director of Bands. “We wanted to excel in vocabulary and movement and really improve in those things.
“You’re asking [just] before the end of the season, and I think we hit that. I look at one of the cleanest bands I’ve ever seen at Mustang. That’s not a slight against past bands, but we wanted to take a step forward in those areas and I feel like we really did.”
The marching band begins preparing for its version of the state championship as soon as school ends in May. Each spot is auditioned and once the students are selected, Edgmon, his staff, and the drum majors start “putting the pieces together” before breaking as a full team for the summer.
Barbara Martinez plays during the Mustang High School Marching Band’s half-time performance on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 at Bronco Stadium. Martinez and the MHS Marching Band are heading to the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Marching Contest on Saturday at Broken Arrow High School. (Photo by Ron Lane / Lane Images)
In June and for most of July, the members still meet in smaller groups for rehearsals and training before kicking things into full gear a few weeks prior to the start of the school year in August.
During a normal week, Edgmon says the band rehearses around 13 hours, including five class hours. During the current competition season, the group also performs on Saturdays, starting with practice at 8 a.m. before loading busses and heading to compete. They usually return around 11 p.m.
“It is a huge work commitment and a huge time commitment for these students,” Edgmon said. “During the course of a season, they will rehearse around 250 hours and that is from late July on.
“The big thing is that the students have auditioned to be here and that breeds commitment and work ethic. They work hard and realize the value of that hard work. So, when we’re together, we recognize what we do because what we do is pretty special.”
It is nonstop action during a MHS Marching Band performance.
Not only does the ensemble take up nearly the entire football field, but it also never stops moving. From start to finish, the drum majors and directors must keep everyone on cue.
Not an easy feat.
Edgmon pointed out that sight and sound do not travel at the same speed. One side of the band’s sound does not hit the press box at the same time as the other side. They are dealing with physics, not just music.
“Look at us on a Friday night and watch our performance and everything that goes into it,” Edgmon said. “It’s a pretty athletic thing. There is not one moment where they stand and play.
“They are always doing two to three things at the same time, whether it’s something lower body or upper body and playing, or partner work, or intense choreography. Things in the air or on the ground. A lot is happening, and they have to train for that.”
MHS will be performing “’Til Death Do Us Part” on Saturday – a program originally designed by Wes Cartwright. The theme is centered around the movie “Bride of Frankenstein” with an emphasis on the overall “look” says Edgmon.
“Our shows are unique, and we have an image that we want to hold,” he said. “There is always something a little different to look at. Rather than go with something vague like a color or music, we have things that have become kind of our niche.
“There is something iconic about “Bride of Frankenstein” on some level even if you don’t go back to the 1930s version. This year the hook is the look of the uniform and the pieces of the puzzle like the flags, the props, and the things that are going to work together.”
The performance has been a long-term project, much like anything Mustang’s marching band puts together. Edgmon says it is to the extent that the design team which works with the program is already building for next year.
“There is a lot of coordination that goes into it in terms of what we need to adjust from past performances and what worked well,” Edgmon said. “We really try to target the product to our students.”
Edgmon joked that he sometimes sees himself as an IKEA store manager when everything comes together at a performance.
“We’re going to build the furniture and bring it to a specific area and put the department together,” he said while jokingly making the comparison. “Then we place the department next to another department and then build a pathway to walk through the store…
“But it really is neat to see the end product. This time of year, I have the most critical eye, but I do sit back and realize how amazing it is that we got to this point. You get to see and experience the efforts of a lot of people and kids. That’s the special part of the operation.”
The Mustang High School Marching Band takes the field for a performance at Bronco Stadium on Oct. 20, 2023. The band is heading to Broken Arrow on Saturday for the 2023 Oklahoma Bandmasters Association Marching Contest. (Photo by Ron Lane / Lane Images)
The Broncos are excited to compete on Saturday, but the main focus is their own ensemble, not others.
“It’s the big exclamation point at the end of the season. We’re focused on doing our best and that will be the most exciting thing. What we do has no effect on the other bands and what they do has no effect on us.
“We’re going to be the best that we can be and recognize and celebrate the efforts of others.”
Mustang’s drum majors this year are Nina Huynh (Jr.), Kael McDonald (So.), Tran Nguyen (Jr.), Talise Vo (Jr.), and Brook Voit (Jr.).
Edgmon relies on the drum majors and their commitment and eye for detail. They audition for the five spots and then play a large part in terms of leadership, accountability, and overall IQ.
“They have a pretty heavy role with the logistical operations for the band,” Edgmon said. “They have a huge role musically and are quite literally responsible for what we’re doing on the field. They help stabilize the speed and sound.”
Typically, Edgmon said Mustang would follow the OBA Marching Contest with a trip to the Bands of America Championships. However, the program’s schedule is slightly different this season.
The band will not be performing at the BOA Championships following the OBA Marching Contest. Edgmon said the competition just didn’t fit the program’s schedule in 2023, but that the break provides an opportunity to help the students grow and improve.
“It has given us the chance to just get better at marching and playing,” he said.
Mustang did compete recently and won the Grand Championship at the 2023 Deer Creek Invitational, taking home awards for High Music and High Visual Achievement.
The Broncos also won the Class 4A championship at the 2023 Bands of America West Texas Regional in Midland. They again won an award for High Visual Achievement.
Following the OBA Marching Contest and the end of football season, the program breaks up from “one big thing” to “many small things” according to Edgmon.
The full ensemble will break down into six concert bands, five competitive winter guards, percussion ensembles, chamber ensembles, three jazz bands, and more.
“It’s funny because marching band is our one, big visible thing,” Edgmon said. “But next semester the schedule is much busier.”
GROWTH IN POPULARITY
Edgmon pointed out that since he became a teacher, marching bands across the state have grown in size and the activity itself has grown in popularity.
He said in the mid-2000s, bands would usually number anywhere from 120-140 students in Class 6A. Now bands are “bursting at the seams” with 250-300 or more members.
“That says a lot about what’s happening in the band community in Oklahoma,” Edgmon said. “Not only do students want to be a part of it, but they’re also joining and getting better. That’s a really cool thing.”
Edgmon said what used to be one of the state’s top competitions would not even be considered a top 12-15 event in 2023. He expects to see over 3,000 students on the field following the OBA Marching Contest when in the past he would see “maybe 1,000 or 1,200.”
“The growth of the activity is really evident in the instruction,” he said. “A lot of schools, like Mustang, have chosen to do things in terms of fine arts and to really support those programs. You start supporting a program like this and have success, and all of a sudden kids want to be a part of it.”