August 16, 2013

Joseph Pratt

PDT Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of articles by the Daily Times visiting area school marching bands during their preparation for the fall performance season.

Matt Swintek, Portsmouth High School band director, is going into his second year as director and is raising pride and morale in the band, as they make the change from show band to serious competition band.

It has been a while since the PHS marching band has been geared toward competitions, since the last director focused heavily on show band for the Friday night football games. The new band director stated that it has been more than 15 years since the band has been seriously committed to competitions. The band will still perform at half time shows for the football games, but they will just prepare the one show for the whole season.

Even with preparing only one show, Swintek says the crowd should expect each week’s performance to be better than the one before. Swintek has even created a “wins/loss column” that he displays in the classroom. Anytime they beat their progress from the week before, it is counted as a win, but if they stagnate or get worse, he counts it as a loss.

The show they have prepared is called “War: Rise of the Spartans.” The mentality behind the show is one that has really raised energy in the kids.

“The whole mindset to the show this season is that of the Spartan people,” Swintek explained. “From them waking up in the morning, going to battle, losing their first battle, recovering from it and triumphing in the end.”

Swintek sat with a friend of his from Ohio University and they considered various ideas that would be interesting to try. They came up with the Spartan concept and decided it would be fun for the kids, challenging, and would teach them literature that they might not find in another setting.

“One of the ideas behind choosing the show we did, was to raise the morale of students. We knew we are a changing band and thought the kids really needed something to grow from. Why not take a society that was at their strongest and use that mindset? Initially, we were looking at the Trojans, but having a Troy show might not have been fantastic, so we decided to pay homage to the old Spartan football team that used to be here.”

The show is comprised of movie music and a blend of classical pieces. Music by Gustav Holst, Antonín Dvořák and Giuseppe Verdi will appear, along with music from the movies “Apollo 13” and Disney’s “Hercules.”

The band has been in thrust into a strenuous 3-week band camp and an additional week for a “rookie camp,” which is longer and much more work than band camps have been in recent years, but the outcome has been the band growing in pride and ownership.

“They’ve responded to the show really well. They like it and they are trying to push themselves as well, which is from me knowing their limits, and pushing them to them and then try to go even farther. I told them that I am pushing them to make state finals.”

Swintek said that he had a bit of an issue with resistance from some of the students last year, with the director change, but everything has smoothed out this year.

“The students are stepping up and taking complete control of ownership. It’s clear that they want this now. It is theirs,” Swintek said. “There is a lot of morale and enthusiasm and building the program into something that it used to be, back when the program was revered around the area. The kids want that for themselves.”

Swintek said that he made the decision to go back to competition marching band style because he did it when he was in high school and knows that it is an experience that the students cannot get anywhere else. Swintek attended Ohio University and was involved in their show band style of performance, but he wants to focus on competition and perfecting one great show, rather than five shows that are just good.

Destiny Campbell is the solemn senior in the marching band this year. She is the drum major this year and plans to continue music at Ohio University, where she would like to play for the Marching 110.

“This year is a big change. From last year, we are much more extreme from years past, with another director it is a completely different band and mindset. We are trying new things like competitions,” Campbell said. “I’m so excited. I love marching band competitions and I actually get to be in one now.”

Campbell is also excited to introduce this show and likes the message and the Greek mythology behind it.

“I think this season’s show is so cool,” Campbell said. “I know the band isn’t an army, but we are overcoming what we used to be and hopefully we will be victorious, too. That is what this whole show is about anyways.”

With all of the changes the new director has made at PHS, there are a lot of long term goals that they have set to achieve. Perhaps the largest of goals is to have the band size increase. Swintek is pushing for that in many ways, one is seeking approval from the school board for a trip in 2016, that he is not ready to release just yet. Another goal Swintek is pursing is to increase technical abilities of the students. Increasing technical abilities in the band makes it easier to say they are going to state, rather than hoping to.

“I think that Matt is doing a great job, the kids are working hard and that is showing,” Principal Doug Poage said. “They’re going back into competitions and I think given some time the band will grow.”

The band currently has four scheduled competitions for fall; Licking Heights, Ohio, Sept. 14; Lancaster, Ohio, Sept. 28; Lucasville, Ohio, Oct. 12; Ironton, Ohio, October 19.