November 19, 2010
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NO DISHARMONY: The Clarinet section maintains its responsible for Bonita's beautiful sound.

NO DISHARMONY: The Clarinet section maintains its responsible for Bonita's beautiful sound.

This might be heresy, but the best team on the field Friday night at Glenn Davis stadium in La Verne just might be the Bonita band.

Think about it. With 80 players on their roster, The Marching Bearcats have more members than either the 9-1 Bearcats or their opponent, the high-flying Condors. They run just as many formations, practice just as long, if not longer, and they have a great quarterback, err, conductor in Pablo Martinez. Their coach is the redoubtable Jeff Bird.

These guys lug more than pigskins. In full uniform, they’re toting tubas, trombones, and drums the size of cannons. Athletically, they’re invincible. How many football players do you know who can play an instrument and march to the beat at the same time? One misstep by a member of the band, and the marcher gets run over faster than you can say Antonio Margarito (the fella whose face was turned into hamburger meat by Manny Pacquiao last weekend.

Although they’re performing at tonight’s half-time, their Super Bowl is tomorrow at 2:37 p.m. when they will perform three songs from the legendary rock group “Queen” in a multi-band competition at Huntington High School.

“We’ve gradually been getting better all year, and we’re peaking at the right time,” said Bird, Bonita’s band-leading teacher.

“It’s going to be fun and exciting,” added clarinetist Maddy Geller. “I think we have a chance at winning.”

Added junior clarinetist Danielle, “I like going to the competitions, playing against the other bands.” All the friends she’s made is another big attraction.

Bonita's drum major is so good he can conduct with his eyes closed.

Bonita's drum major is so good he can conduct with his eyes closed.

As for the band’s entourage, any football team would be jealous. They pull a huge trailer to events, creating an instant tailgate party wherever they’re competing. Meanwhile, a whole crew of dedicated parents tends to the band’s every need. If a hem or a button is out of place, they’ll fix it. They bring the shoe polish for the scuffed shoes and the hairspray to make sure every hair is in place. “Our parents pretty much do everything we need in order to make sure the day runs smoothly,” Bird said.

Like any good college football team, the band also recruits. With shows like “American Idol” and “Glee,” dominating TV, being a band member nowadays is really cool. Plus, the quality of the band’s players and performers keeps getting better and better.

“The quality of musicians I’m getting from Ramona Middles School has really helped me,” Bird said. “Since Sara Nelson has taken over at Ramona, I’ve seen a definite change in the quality of musicians coming up.”

Again, the players aren’t just musically inclined; they’re flat out smart.

“Many of the school’s valedictorians have come from the band program,” said Tom Pinkus, president and CEO of the La Verne Band Boosters Association, who some time last year, no doubt during a vulnerable moment, was convinced to take on the huge commitment and mantle of leadership. “Many of the members also play multiple instruments,” added Tom, whose daughter Lizzie is a member of the band’s impressive color guard.

Just like an eagle, Bird has his eye on every last detail.

Just like an eagle, Bird has his eye on every last detail.

What the students bring most is dedication and love of music. Over the summer, band members practiced one day a week for four or five hours. Then two weeks before school started, they practiced nine hours each day. With school in session, they have band period each day and then practice every Monday and Wednesday for three hours at night.

“The time commitment is massive and the dedication of this group is really, really spectacular,” Bird said while watching the band practice on the field.

Bird doesn’t hold auditions, nor do you need any prior experience to be a member, but you better be able to bring it in terms of showing up and learning the routines.

If a kid misses practice or isn’t “getting it done on the field,” the band member might be asked to sit out a competition. “They risk not only being a detriment to the group, it might even be a safety issue,” Bird said. “If you don’t where you’re going out here and get mowed over, people get hurt.”

Who said, playing in the band isn’t a contact sport.

Accidents rarely happen, of course, because the Bonita band is that good. After hours and hours of practice, they make the difficult look easy.

The percussionists keep the beat.

The percussionists keep the beat.

“Not only do you have to play music and play it musically,” Bird explained, “but you have perform with the correct dynamics and articulation and tone, and make it sound pretty. At the same time, you have to move your body and put a particular foot down on a particular beat, and each footstep has to be a particular length for the forms to work. And each move has a different step size. So you have to vary your step size for every move you do through the show.”

And football coach Eric Podley thinks he has it tough preparing for the Condors!

Added clarinetist Holly Alvarado, “There’s technique to it.”

Bird has even upped his game, anticipating Bonita’s last show-down performance of the season.

“Over the summer I spent a lot more time watching drum corps international stuff and getting more versed about what this whole medium is about – learning the ins and outs of what every successful show needs to have,” said Bird, enjoying his seventh year at Bonita. “Now I’m designing the shows. I have a much better understanding of what a show needs to have to be entertaining and to score well.”

The Color Guard member adds the color.

The Color Guard member adds the color.

The investment was worth it because Bird will bring a beefed up squad of 80 members to Huntington Beach on Saturday, up from 72 last year.

“Our sound has improved a lot,” Bird noted. “We switched all of our trombones over to baritones this year, which made a huge difference in our sound. It kind of warmed things up, it got us better balanced.”

The color guard looks flashier, too.

“It’s the biggest group we’ve ever had,” Bird said. Color guard comprises tall flags, rifles (unloaded), sabers (unsharpened), and dancers and even bicyclists. “They’ve really helped us score.”

So just like the football team tonight, the Marching Bearcats will be keeping score tomorrow and going through all their pre-performance rituals.

Before the band heads south to Huntington Beach early Saturday, the marchers will do a couple of last run-throughs at Bonita.

“We’ll clean a few things up, then head out, change and do the show,” Bird said.

The Bonita band’s game-face is on.

For more information, including performance times, please visit the band website at www.lvbba.org.




























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  1. Peter, in case you heard, the Bonita Marching Bearcats placed third in Saturday’s State Championships at Huntington Beach High School.

    Placing ahead of the Marching Bearcats were Huntington Beach High School in 2nd place and in first place was Capistrano Valley High School.

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