The East Meadow High School marching band reached a milestone last month, finishing first place in the 75th New York City Columbus Day Parade — marking the Jets 15th victory since they began competing in 1992.
“It wasn’t as easy this year, but everybody stayed focused the whole time, even though it was hot and the sun was on our backs,” said Taylor Fitzgerald, a senior at EMHS and piccolo player.
The band won its first competition in 1992, which director Stephen Engle called a surprise. The group practiced marching nine people across with an additional color guard member on each side, however, he had to change the routine when they began lining up and realized the streets was more narrow than he thought. “We marched seven across and the band was so disciplined that they ended up winning,” he said.
The band missed the past two parades because of inclement weather, but finished in first when they competed in 2016. “We just have amazing kids who have a good understanding of the tradition of excellence that they’re apart of,” Engle said. “They always dig deep and rise to the occasion.”
Engle and the band chose their selection of music last spring to allow students to practice over the summer. The Jets marching band, which includes 165 instrumentalists and 18 color guard members, performed “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa and a Paul Murtha arrangement of the Earth, Wind and Fire classic “In the Stone.”
“At first, the kids were a little reluctant because, quite honestly, it’s a very challenging tune,” he said of the Earth, Wind and Fire song. “The music is complex, rhythmically. When it started coming together, it was very rewarding . . . Now, you’ll hear them listening to it on their IPods.”
Engle leads the band with Gregory Sisco and Zachary Robason, along with color guard coordinator Monica Becker. Fitzgerald called thanked her instructors and called the victory a team effort. “To accomplish better things, you have to be there for each other, and the teachers are a big part of that,” she said.
The band is now preparing for their winter concert, for which students will break into three groups. The Winter Concert Part I, featuring the school’s wind ensemble, is on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m., and the concert and symphonic bands are featured on Jan. 29 on 7 p.m.
“It’s not just the musical achievements. It’s the friends I’ve made through the program,” Fitzgerald said, when asked what she loves about the band program. “It’s great that we all play excellent, but it’s about the community and that strengthens the music as well.”
Engle said that the marching band creates this community because it includes all of the school’s musicians. “Whether you’re a superstar or a beginner player, everybody is welcome,” he said. “There is no bench and everybody’s gotta bring their A game. If one kid is out of step or not doing his part, the whole group fails.”
The band also performed at the Long Island Columbus Day parade in Huntington and at the EMHS Homecoming football game. They are going to perform at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in February and at East Meadow’s Memorial Day parade in May.