CHS band marches toward success

When the Claremont High School Marching Band lost its winning ways, band director Melanie Riley-Gonzalez knew she had to act.

The band had grown just enough to edge the Wolfpack last year from the small-band group in its past competition circuit into the category for larger bands. Faced off against much larger schools—many with funding allowing for props ranging from dozens of $50 flags to large wooden ramps to an oversized model of a pyramid—CHS didn’t place at all in competition last year.

Ms. Riley-Gonzalez opted to switch the band to a new association, the Southern California Judging Circuit (SCJC), which she felt was a better fit. Along with featuring smaller schools, the SCJC puts a 50/50 emphasis on music and visual presentation, as compared to the last circuit’s more show-stopping orientation.

The results of the switch have been great. This season, the CHS Marching Band won 2 second places and a third place in competition as well as a 4th place in their division at the SCJC championships held on Saturday, November 17 at Heritage High School in Menifee. The championships featured 10 finalists chosen among competitors at 14 local and regional field shows.

SCJC competition is heated and close. At the band’s last contest before the championships, held at Bonita High School, the Marching Wolfpack notably missed first place by only .05 percent.

The band was feeling excited and confident on Thursday, November 15 as they shot group photos and practiced for the championship. They were also feeling more fragrant than they have in some time, considering that this year they got new uniforms to replace the aging ones that have served the Pack for years. The band’s former jackets were an impressive 23 years old. Money for the replacement uniforms was raised by CHS Wolfpack band boosters over a period of years.

The students voted on a daring routine this year, a somewhat “artsy,” multi-tempo program with 3-movements, each dealing with the theme of “Reflections.” So far the selection, which features the choreographed use of large, mirror-like reflectors, has paid off in spades. 

“I love working with kids to be able to create something, developing them as musicians and seeing them grow throughout the year,” Ms. Riley-Gonzales says about her demanding but never-boring job, which she took on 3 years ago. 

One of the strengths of CHS band members is that they receive such a strong foundation in music at the elementary and junior high levels before coming to the high school, notes the band director.

Senior Gabe Garvin, who is the drum major for the CHS Marching Band, said the students have benefited from the division switch, and from Ms. Riley-Gonzales’ palpable enthusiasm for music.

“I think she’s great. She has a lot of energy toward what she does, and I think it rubs off on us,” Gabe said.

There’s year-round work involved in being a part of the marching band, including twice-weekly 3-hour practices over the course of the summer. Along with fosturing a great sound, it nurtures camaraderie among the band members, he shared.

“I think we’re probably one of the most unique groups of people on campus,” he said. “We’ve got people from all kinds of sports, all kinds of groups. It’s a mixing bowl of people.”

—Sarah Toribio


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