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Home | Mark Hayward's City Matters

Band camp gets Memorial musicians in rhythm a week early

August 27. 2014 9:08PM

By now, some 130 students in the Memorial High School band know the Del Shannon rock ’n’ roll classic “Runaway.”

They know the horn-driving rhythm, the peppy mid-song keyboard solo, and Shannon’s tenor lament that made the song a smash hit in 1961. And as this week drags on, no one would blame them if they took inspiration from the song — and ran away.

Ran away from band camp, that is.

As this idyllic New England summer draws to a close and most Manchester teenagers are enjoying one last week of outdoor pools and daytime television, band students have returned to the school-year rigors of memorization, drill and examination.

“I don’t consider myself in summer anymore,” said Kaitlyn Dispensa, a sophomore flute player. “I’m back to school.”

For seven hours each day this week, Dispensa and her fellow band students have blown or banged instruments while stepping along practice fields near Memorial. It’s a drill repeated by thousands of other music students across the state.

They work in this week’s unusually hot sun. The lucky ones sport bronze tans. The more Irish of them make do with sunblock-protected white skin or sunburns that match Memorial’s Crusader-red school color.

“Band camp is hot, sweaty, sticky. It’s not the most fun, but it’s something you gotta do,” said Jarrod Broussard, a junior who plays euphonium.

Earlier in the week, students concentrated on “Runaway,” the longest of four numbers the band will perform in football halftime shows this fall.

Repetition is the avenue to perfection, so band co-directors Tim Russell and David Brien have the students repeat the routine four times, five times. Sometimes more.

Play the right note.

Take the right step.

Move at the right speed.

Land on the right spot.

Then stand around while Russell or Brien work out the kinks with the flutes or euphoniums.

Then do it all again, until the sound is right, the line is straight and the spacing is uniform.

All the while, Russell and Brien walk the field and bark a mix of commands and encouragement to the students.

“Keep your feet moving.”

“Euphoniums, I see too many shoulders. Trumpets, I see too many shoulders.”

“Keep clean. I like the effort. Fix it in your head.”

“Good, do it again,” as the last syllable in Russell’s voice takes a jump in pitch and volume.

And the more they work on the number, the more the movements fall into sync.

“People are a half a football field away,” Broussard said. “All you can worry about is what you’re doing and have trust in what the others are doing.”

The Memorial band is up against a deadline this year. The first football game — a week from tomorrow — is a home game, so the band must be ready for the 8 1/2-minute halftime show, Russell said.

As with any sports team, the performance should improve as the year goes on.

“It’s no different from any class. The goal is to be the best you can be,” Russell said. “We’re just lucky. We get to perform in public.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on He can be reached at

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