With just a handful of weeks to go before their debut performance, Liberty University’s marching band is putting the final touches on a show months in the making.
Over the past week, Liberty’s Center for Music Arts and Worship has echoed with the sounds of drums as students have honed their skills at the school’s annual band camp.
It is a high stakes time for the 265 student musicians who soon will don the band’s distinctive white and blue uniforms. On Aug. 31, they will take the football field for the first time when the Liberty Flames take on the Syracuse Orange.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then,” said Stephen Kerr, Liberty’s director of bands for the past 20 years.
The camp marks the first time the “Spirit of the Mountain” — the only college marching band in the region — has had a chance to practice in unison since the end of the last academic year.
For the past several days, percussionists have practiced alongside one another while the color guard has mastered the choreography of its routine. Over the weekend, band members who play brass and woodwind instruments arrived on campus and, in the coming days, the entire band will stretch out together across a soccer field and practice the show in full.
“It’s pretty complex,” Kerr said. “There’s probably about 10,000 steps in the show. We’re constantly in motion.”
Entitled “Take Me Home,” the show is a celebration of Americana and the several states band members hail from, according to Kerr. It features classic songs such as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and more recent hits such as Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the U.S.A.” before culminating with “America the Beautiful.”
“The arrangement of ‘America the Beautiful’ is not the typical ballad that you might think of when a chorus would sing it,” Kerr said. “It is our show closer and there’s a lot of musical and visual fireworks.”
Jessica Minervini, a sophomore from North Carolina who serves as the section leader of the front ensemble, said the show concludes with an uplifting message of national unity and peace.
The theme is personal for Minervini. Her father was a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001, and he later served in the Iraq War, she said.
“I love the show and I really think Christ put me in it as a section leader to remember the great things in life,” she said, referencing her father’s service.
The band will perform “Take Me Home” at all six of Liberty’s home football games and at an away game at the University of Virginia. It also will take the field for exhibition performances during a pair of competitions hosted by Liberty and held for high school marching bands.
The band’s leadership team, made up of 38 faculty, staff and student musicians, began working on the show in January. Since then, they’ve collaborated closely on the color guard’s routine, the drill formations and the musical arrangement, Kerr said.
The hope is by the end of band camp this week, each element of the marching band will have seamlessly merged into a harmonized collection.
“They get very little individual notoriety,” Kerr said of the band members. “You’re not going to see any marching band, after they perform at some competition or at some event, the next day with a write up in the newspaper about statistics for every individual. It is a very unselfish type of activity to be involved in.”
That unity is exactly what appealed to Darin Phelps, a senior from Ohio and a member of the band’s drumline, when he joined three years ago.
He said the camp is among his favorite times of the year, since it allows him to reconnect with old friends and welcome freshmen into the program.
“It feels like family all the time,” he said.
Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.