Marching Demons prepare for another year with original music by one of their own

Washington High School senior, John Flannery, 16, composed for the 2019 field show Dante's Ascent

Union photo by Gretchen Teske

The saxophone section of the Washington High School marching band were hard at work during band camp on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Union photo by Gretchen Teske The saxophone section of the Washington High School marching band were hard at work during band camp on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

WASHINGTON — Once again, the fields are alive as residents in the City of Washington are waking up to the sounds of the marching band preparing for another year on the field.

This year’s show, Dante’s Ascent, features all original music written by Washington High School’s own John Flannery. Last year, Flannery wrote the music for the marching show with writing partner Meghan Newman, who has since graduated and moved onto Drake University.

Flannery said undertaking writing this music all by himself was quite daunting, but knowing he had the support of the band and the experience from previously having written music, he was a touch less nervous.

“I had Meghan’s help all along the way because I showed her some drafts and she helped revise and gave some comments, but yeah, it was kind of nerve-racking,” he said. “It was just one of these things where I feel like I have to live up to what happened last year.”

Last year, the band earned a Division One rating at state under Newman and Flannery’s musical guidance. This year, the idea for the music came from a show the band did a few years back.

“Five years ago, the marching band did the theme Dante’s Descent, from real life into hell. The original story is that Dante is trying to find his wife who has died and gone to heaven and he passes through purgatory to find her. The first part was done a couple of years ago, so I just felt like it would be fun to finish the story, per se,” he said.

As this year marks Flannery’s senior year, it will also mark the end of his story with the band. At only 16 years of age, he said the pressure to create such a piece is intimidating, but a challenge he is happy to tackle.

“It’s surreal, but it’s been a part of what I’ve been doing for so long that it feels weird to do it, but also natural,” he said.

His favorite part is getting to hear the band play the music he has been working on since December 2018. He can’t wait to hear how all 25 parts will sound when they come together. On the field, drum line section leader Grayson Fedler said he has been participating in band for six years because he loves being part of a group.

The band is smaller this year, he said, but he likes it that way because it makes it feel more organized. Washington band director Don Hughes said last year the band had about 107 members and is down to 77 this year.

“Usually, we get about 15 eighth-graders, and there have been additional requirements in their academic levels, so the ability to get here isn’t as easy so we have to do it all before school, (but) we only have half the rehearsal time, so we have to make sure the kids that are doing it are really ready to do it,” he said.

Small but mighty, the band held its first day of camp on Monday, Aug. 5, and started the day at 8:30 a.m. and finished around 8:30 p.m. that night. They kept that schedule up Monday through Thursday last week and Monday through Thursday this week, they are rehearsing from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Band camp is not the only time for the members to get to know each other and learn the music, but they also learn the fundamentals.

“What we’ve been working on the first few days is music (and) basic marching technique. Tonight will be the first night we get the drill out and start putting the actual show on the field,” he said on Tuesday, Aug. 7.

Putting the show on the field and getting started with the marching may be a favorite part for the band, but for Hughes, he most enjoys seeing the band come together and work together as a team.

“The whole thing is fun. I’m really impressed with our new crop and our upper classmen working really well. It’s neat to see that new sort of band community gel and see our new upperclassmen stepping into those positions,” he said.