On Friday nights, when the football team takes to the field, and the cheerleaders are performing on the sidelines, it is the marching band who sets the rhythm for the game.
Every year, for Salem High School’s homecoming game, the band goes all out by enlisting the help of their Andrew Lewis Middle School counterpart.
Collectively, there were nearly 250 band members at last Friday’s game versus Christiansburg, which made for their biggest homecoming show ever. Salem won the game, 49-7.
This year is Chris Wilkes’ fourth as the Salem High School band director, and he also served as the school’s assistant band director for nine years prior.
“Friday night was really electric,” Wilkes said. “There was a huge crowd, and it was the first home game since Sept. 11 where it wasn’t raining.”
Salem High School senior Noah Galbreath is a band conductor this year, and said having the middle school students on hand is always a fun time.
“It was really cool with all of the eighth graders there,” he said. “It’s s kind of nostalgic, hearing all of them. They’re all excited about playing at the high school level.”
Before becoming a conductor, Galbreath played the baritone saxophone. He hopes to play at James Madison University next year. He also acknowledges that the band plays a huge role in pumping up the team, and the crowd.
“Without the band, it wouldn’t feel like the same atmosphere,” he said.
The high school’s halftime show is titled “Remembrance,” and is a tribute to those who have served in the armed forces.
“It’s highly emotional, and very exciting,” Wilkes said. “The crowd has been really receptive.”
The show, which utilizes many visuals, begins with Earth, Wind & Fire music, and also includes patriotic tunes such as “America the Beautiful.”
The current assistant band director for SHS is John Wright, who is the band director of Andrew Lewis Middle School.
The two work well together. Wright said it didn’t take long for the middle school band members to catch up and learn the field formation.
“Because they had partners, it probably took them 20 minutes,” Wright said.
This year, Salem High School’s marching band has 133 total members, which is the largest group in the past four years. Wilkes said he believes the reason behind that number is in large part thanks to Wright, who is integral in preparing middle school band members for the next step, and getting them excited for what’s to come.
The Salem High School band begins practicing in July of each year, and the season doesn’t end until December.
“Through this season, we will have practiced 300 hours,” Wilkes said. “One of the challenges is keeping everybody motivated once it gets cold.”
Rain has also been a huge issue for the band this year. When it rains, the band still takes the field, but it limits what they are able to do. However, neither the were a problem at Friday’s game.
“This is definitely the most exciting time of year for these guys,” Wilkes said.