The sounds of after-school activities at Cary High School are usually no match for the band.
The laughter of loitering teenagers, the whistles from football practice and the chants of cheerleaders are often drowned out by the drums and brass in the back parking lot.
But these days, the first 15 minutes of band practice are so quiet that you can hear cars gliding by on Maynard Road.
Band members sit silent and barefooted on mats that surround an amplifier that’s hooked up to an iPod. They stretch and breathe at the direction of a soft voice coming from the loudspeaker.
“Celebrate your breath,” the voice says in between stretches. “Be a better version of yourself.”
The Cary High band recently adopted a yoga program as its warm-up routine. Band members say it helps them perform a more spirited, synchronized march by relieving stress and improving conditioning.
“With breathing, it helps a lot,” said Aaron Barrett, a saxaphone player who likes the leap frog handstands. “It helps me hold onto my notes longer.”
Eric Neal, a marimba player, said the wheel pose is his favorite.
“I honestly feel stronger,” he said.
The voice on the loudspeaker is Davide Di Giorgio, a yoga instructor and high school music teacher from Milton, Canada who designed the training program and recorded his sessions for Cary High.
Di Giorgio is friends with Kelly Earp, the Cary band’s visual caption head.
The school is the first to use Di Giorgio’s “motivational conditioning” program, which he developed for more than a year and hopes to bring to market.
“I was at a (marching band) competition in Texas and wondered what conditioning the kids get,” Di Giorgio said in a phone interview. “I found there’s no total conditioning program out there yet, which was strange to me.”
Di Giorgio designed the program so that the content of the yoga sessions varies each week to match up with the students’ mental and physical state.
The first week of sessions, for example, was designed to push students toward mental, physical and musical growth.
“As we get closer to finals (when there are major competitions), I’ll prepare them for specific moments of what they’ll go through during that 8-minute show,” he said.
Cary band director Matthew Minick, who’s taught band for 26 years, knew he wanted to incorporate the yoga program into the regular practices after trying it out during summer band camp.
“Shows are pretty demanding. They require stamina,” he said. “What we found is that it worked (students) harder. And because we called it yoga, they didn’t really notice it.”
Minick compared the program to silent sustained reading, an educational strategy also known as SSR where students read silently for 10 minutes at the beginning of class.
“Teachers I know who do it swear by it, and this works the same way,” he said. “It focuses and calms them because their minds are usually in a different place when we start practice.”
Minick said he hasn’t heard any complaints from parents.
Some students, like mellophone player Christian Bulger, initially thought the program was weird.
He became fond of it quickly because he said it builds unity among band members.
Last year, band members warmed up by stretching independently. There was no real coordination, so lots of students just horsed around, said Bulger, a junior.
“It’s a lot less monotonous than just stretching. It gets you in the right mindset for rehearsal,” he said. “And seniors getting into it helps the younger kids concentrate.”