A marching band routine is carefully choreographed with dozens of musicians weaving in and out of position, making formations look seamless to the spectators in the stands.
It can take months to perfect, and even then, things get tweaked along the way. Green Hope senior Jennifer Heiden is used to this, having been in the marching band for years.
But Heiden, a third-generation marching band player from Cary, will be tested when she plays with the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band during a nationally televised football game at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The U.S. Army All-American Bowl – featuring all-star high school football players – will air live Saturday, Jan. 3, on NBC at 1 p.m.
Heiden is one of 125 students from across the country who have been selected to play at halftime with the prestigious band, and they’ll have just under a week to play together before the big game.
“There will probably be a lot of rehearsal,” Heiden says matter-of-factly.
She’s known the kind of hard work it takes since she picked up the flute in sixth grade. It’s helped her earn a slew of musical accolades and leadership roles, including woodwind captain of the Green Hope band, being named to the all-district band five times and the all-state band twice. She was first chair in the flute section for the all-state band.
She’s the kind of student who masters the flute and then moves on to the more difficult piccolo. It’s the highest pitch instrument you can play and very small, she explains. Players must form their lips differently and more precisely to create a sound. It’s also easier to play in a marching band and can be heard better than her preferred flute.
And then, because she wants to be a band director after college, she took up the euphonium, a lesser-known brass horn.
“She’s very driven,” said Brian Myers, Green Hope’s band director for eight years. “She wants to be an education major. She has to know all the different instruments to teach it. We had a conversation early this year for her to get a head start.”
He’s not surprised that Heiden made the band, calling his student “very deserving.”
“She knows what needs to be done,” he said.
He’s proud she’ll represent the school on a national level and hopes it may inspire other students. She’s the first student from Green Hope to make the national band. Other students have made regional marching bands, but because there aren’t as many all-star national bands, there are fewer opportunities for students to apply for and join them, he said.
Three other Triangle students will be joining Heiden: Micaela Fox, a color guard member at Clayton High; Katherine Hand, a trombone player from Carrboro High; and Caroline Webb, a color guard member from Broughton High.
They applied during their junior year by submitting videos of themselves marching and playing an assigned piece of music along with recommendations from their band director and principal.
When Jennifer’s mother, Stephanie Heiden, woke her up with the news she had been selected, Jennifer said she was “kind of amazed.”
“It’s just a really cool experience,” she said. “Only 125 in the entire country get to go. It’s so selective.”
Since she’s been notified of her selection, she has been sent the music the band will play at the game along with the drill, which tells her where on the field she’ll need to stand and march to. After memorizing the music, she had to send back a video of herself playing the piece.
Myers said he’s seen Heiden plotting dots on the Green Hope field so she can learn the routine.
“It’s a lot harder to do that yourself,” he said. “You don’t see all the people. You just see your place.”
But neither he nor Heiden seem concerned. Being in a marching band means its members learn a host of life skills, such as time management, dedication and perseverance, Heiden said. If she and her 170 marching band members at Green Hope can pull together their routine, then the All-American Band can, too.
“We’re just a big family, honestly,” Heiden said, referring to her Green Hope band. “Everyone in the band is friends with each other. It’s a really great social experience, and also a life experience as well.”
Heiden, a fan of classical music, will soon go on auditions for music programs in Michigan and at Appalachian State University. She wants to be a band director like Myers.
“Ever since the sixth grade, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I like the aspect of being up in front of a group and teaching them and conducting them.”