From COVID to Cali: Seniors reflect on time in marching band

Kendall Davis | The Chronicle

From six feet apart to six feet in front of cameras, the William Mason High School Marching Band seniors have come a long way during their time in band.

Following a successful beginning to the season coming in sixth place at the Bands of America Grand National Championships, the William Mason High School Marching Band was invited to perform at the 2024 Rose Parade. The annual New Year’s Day celebration run by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association features flower-covered floats and showcases worldwide marching bands.

The Class of 2024 marching band seniors started their band experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic under many safety precautions, so the opportunity to travel to California and perform for a crowd has been especially meaningful.

Senior Clayton Oldham said it was an immense privilege for the marching band to attend the Rose Parade, as only 21 marching bands were invited this year, including bands from Costa Rica, Japan and Sweden.

“It was a great honor because we did it once back in 2016 but being able to be invited again for the 2024 one was honestly incredible,” Oldham said. “It’s a thing that many programs around the country would strive for but never get the opportunity.”

As the sole senior in the saxophone section, Sammy Smith said the experience of discovering Mason would be attending the Rose Parade was particularly special. During a post-practice meeting, Smith said the band directors announced that for the second time in Mason history, the band was invited to march in the Rose Parade. 

“[The band directors] had a giant Amazon box,” Smith said. “They tipped over the box and a bunch of roses fell out and we all got a fake rose to take home. I still have mine in my room as a memory.”

Senior Color Guard member Cassie Suttmiller said it was exciting to march with cameras so close. With the unique challenge of tossing flags around camera equipment, she said marching in the Rose Parade involved a lot of quick decisions to best perform on camera and was overall a very fun event.

“It was very action-packed and there were a lot of experiences that I [otherwise] would have never gotten,” Suttmiller said. “The actual Rose Parade, it’s crazy. You start marching and then there’s people and huge stands and you can’t see anyone’s faces.”

Considering the COVID-19 restrictions that were in place his freshman year, senior Christopher Stackpole said his band experience has changed a lot over the years. Stackpole said that in 2020, both the introductory mini band camp and three-week-long band camp were altered due to COVID.

“The mini band camp we did was completely online,” Stackpole said. “We would get on our computers and we’d have to log into a Zoom call and the directors would be trying to corral everyone into getting the right things. It’d be kind of chaos.”

In retrospect of her freshman year, senior Cora Grim said her introduction to marching band was unusual with the necessity of Zoom, social distancing and frequent mask-wearing.

“We didn’t have all of our normal performances and competitions,” Grim said. “We didn’t have Grand Nationals at all. But [the directors] still made it a really special year for us because we were able to go to Lucas Oil Stadium and do a performance there.”

Despite the challenges the current seniors faced throughout their four years, Suttmiller said there has been a significant amount of positive change for the band as a whole from her freshman year to now. She said the band has grown both in skill and in number, especially with the color guard  doubling in size from last year.

“Looking back, it’s actually insane,” Suttmiller said. “We’re doing all of these really hard movements and really hard choreography and the band and guard have grown so much together.”

Though this year’s seniors may have had an unconventional band experience, Oldham said they did not let the limitations of COVID define the success of the Mason Band. He said that his freshman year, the band got to spell out the Mason ‘M’ at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and closed out their senior years doing the same in California.

“This year, we ended off at SoFi stadium doing the exact same thing, which is really cool,” Oldham said. “We’re the only group of people that got to start it with an ‘M’ and end with an ‘M’.”

Grim said she remembers the collective excitement that came from finding out she would get to close her time in the band with the Rose Parade after such an eventful four years.

“After [the directors] made that announcement and we were cheering, my friend ran up to me and yelled, ‘You get to go out with a bang!’,” Grim said. “She was really excited that I get to end my senior year with such an amazing experience.”

Stackpole said his time in band has evolved a lot over the years and has had a very interesting progression.

“I don’t think anyone besides the senior class has had a band journey quite like this,” Stackpole said. “Starting with masks, then renting out your own football stadium, and then going to [one of] the biggest parades in the world.”

Although her freshman season was strange, Suttmiller said ending with such a trip and getting to attend such a prestigious event was an amazing way to close out her band experience.

“We got to make up for the time that we lost and all of the experiences we missed because we went to the Rose Parade,” Suttmiller said. “That’s not something that a lot of people get to do. It was really special.”