Director to strike up band at bowl


Dr. Nick Holland is the director of athletic bands at Charleston Southern University. He’s about to enter his third year in that position, and the school’s band has grown from 55 to more than 120 in that time.

He’ll spend a good deal of this summer, though, concentrating on another group of musicians whom he’ll not really get to know for another six months. They’re all high school seniors and considered “the best of the best” band musicians in the country.

He’ll meet them in San Antonio, Texas, as the recently named director of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band. It’s like having a “band full of all your favorite students.” He’ll serve as director for two years. But it’s deciding who makes the cut and who doesn’t that creates his summer of discontent.

More than 1,300 apply. Holland will weed through the videos and interviews to eventually determine which 125 will march in the band. What are the qualifications? Each musician must be a rising senior, have a high grade-point ratio and be nominated by his/her high school band director.

The band will perform at halftime of the Army All-American Bowl game on Jan. 4, the first Saturday of 2014. The game features the best high school football players in the nation, and the halftime show will pay tribute to those who serve in our military.

Holland already has chosen the music. It’ll be an American salute draped around the theme called “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The finale will be a lively rendition of James Brown’s “Living in America.”

More than 50,000 will be on hand for the occasion. Many will be active-duty military personnel along with the top brass from the title sponsor, the Army.

Holland receives no financial compensation as director of the elite group. Working with this caliber of student is the ultimate payoff because of their character and commitment to music.

In the week leading up to the halftime performance, Holland will put the all-star band through 24 hours of rehearsals. The students already will have memorized the music. Many also already will know the step sequences and count structures. That’s one of the real benefits of working with such a group. They all are high achievers.

But what about the notion of “kids being kids”? After all, they’re high school seniors away from home in a fun city for an entire week. This seems like built-in heartburn for any band director. Not really, Holland says. They’re under constant supervision, and even on New Year’s Eve, the sponsor rents the observation deck at the hotel for the fireworks. Even so, as a percussionist by trade, Holland probably will keep an extra eye on the drum section.

Holland’s already excited though there’s so much work to be done in choosing the eventual cream of the crop. His challenge is to mold them into a dynamic marching band that will spend 24 hours rehearsing during five days in the Texas sun in order to perfect a 51/2-minute halftime show.

He also enjoys seeing these top performers realize that somebody right beside them is just as passionate and just as skilled.

Uniforms and instruments will be supplied by industry sponsors. Each musician shows up with talent, understanding that for the show to work, they all must work together.

All summer, Holland will agonize over whether Suzie from Omaha is a better fit than Joseph from Orlando in the trumpet section. Will Thomas from Raleigh mesh with Zeke from Cleveland or will the piccolo group fare better with Sarah from Phoenix?

In the end, the music will be beautiful and the marching precise, but the road to that destination might include one or two headaches as he tries to keep all those talented teenagers stepping in time and showing up on time.

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