Imperial Valley High School marching bands showcase and show off

CUHS Drum Major David Hernandez leads the Great Spartan Band

EL CENTRO – At Central Union High School’s Cal Jones Field Tuesday, the high school marching bands of Holtville, Brawley, Imperial, Calexico, and El Centro gathered to showcase their music, choreography, and presentations during the Imperial Valley Music Educators Association Annual Halftime Festival in El Centro.

A Valley tradition, the festival drew crowds of a few thousand families, former alumni, and music fans cheering their favorite high school bands.

Although high school marching bands are normally relegated to entertaining football fans during halftime periods, these same musicians represent a dedicated group who puts in just as many hours as the football squads they help rally on Friday nights.

Many of the musicians have invested at least five years playing their respective instruments, and work year round practicing just to make the cut to be a part of the school’s marching band.

With humble beginnings 20 years ago, the event usually brought just family members of the performers to the stands while bands worked toward building their “show band” status through smaller bands and limited choreography. In those early years, the Great Spartan Band was the stand alone “Show Band of the Imperial Valley,” but many believe times have changed, and other Valley schools worked hard in trying to reach or match Central’s marching band.

For Valley high school bands, Tuesday was an opportunity to leave their football teams at home as they took the field to show their schools, families, and most importantly, other Valley bands they could put on a show of their own.

As the brass instruments gleamed and smiles shined, the bands and their formations were dressed, and covered down, rank and file.

The opening band of the night was a combination of Holtville’s Field Band with its marching parade band, which entered onto the field accompanied by the shield squad and color guard that normally perform in parades.

The Vikings’ band performed a series of up-tempo ’80s pop classics that had many in the audience rocking in the stands. The marching Viking Band brought to the field a strong musical performance with a robust tone and clear military-like presentation of uniformity while moving onto, throughout, and off the field.

Next up, the Brawley Wildcats marching band took to the field to loud cheers from Brawley fans. The Wildcats chose contemporary musical selections to infuse marching and dancing in the band’s choreography, and several musical solos that showcased the progress Brawley’s band program has made over the years.

Southwest High’s Eagles band marched out with tall flags, majorettes, a drill team, and proceeded to give a strong musical presentation. The tall flags squad maneuvered their flags with grace and expertise, while the majorette twirled her blazing batons that were ablaze to the precarious and dizzying pace of the music of pop musician/performer Michael Jackson.

Imperial’s marching band defined the term “field show” with a collection of colorful props, dancers and choreography that appeared to engage and entertain the crowd to the sounds of “Pure Imagination” from the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The Imperial band also brought a full corps of percussionists that opened the range of their musical presentation.

Utilizing the entire field, Calexico High’s marching band created an impressive presentation of unit size, marching onto the field from west to east, and filling the area from sideline to sideline with the entire accompaniment of parade shields, drill team, color guard, and flags. The marching Bulldog band showcased its seasoned performance prowess to the cheers of supporters and explained why the group has been so successful in competitions this year.

“I think (this event) is very important because everyone gets to showcase their band and they get to show how they improved and how much work they put into their program,” said Calexico’s Assistant Drum Major Diego Espinoza.

Central Union High School’s Spartan band, tall flags, drill team, and majorettes closed the night’s performances with a customary brand of field performance that has gained Central recognition both nationally and internationally in the past 40-plus years since it first ushered in the Jimmie Cannon era.

As the Great Spartan Band marched onto the field, the drum corps pounded a numbing beat as a portion of the band high-stepped onto the field with the bravado and confidence of musicians and performers who looked at home on the field and under the lights.

As usual, the Spartan band did not disappoint with top notch musicianship, choreography, and ever-moving formations. They closed with “the shuffle” that has become the band’s trademark when on field or in parade performances.

Over the years, the band showcase event has become a way for individual musicians and bands to highlight their hard work and dedication, while also perhaps encouraging younger students to become musicians and find a place among their peers later in high school.

David Hernandez, Central Union High’s Drum Major, summed up the importance of music in schools. “I feel like the music program in all schools and at all levels is very important, because it instills unique characteristics in one’s personality — not just socially, but it also helps academically as well,” Hernandez said.