For the fourth time in the last 12 years, Malverne High School’s Pride of Malverne Marching Band placed first in their division at the 45th annual New York State Field Band Conference championships held at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on Oct. 28. Having won championships in other divisions, this is the first time in NYSFBC history that a Long Island band has won the Small School I Division, the highest class for the district’s size.
“It’s something I think we dreamed and always believed that this could happen, and it finally did,” said Glen Johnson, the band director. “It was just an exciting day, and I’m very proud of the entire band, the staff and it’s just an awesome thing for the whole community itself.”
Led by drum majors and seniors Alex Mendez and Subhadra Debnath, the band finished the competition with the highest score in their division of any Long Island band, 91.65, which was also the sixth highest score out of the 53 bands across the state. Mendez said the collective effort that his fellow bandmembers show on the field is what led to their success.
“That’s one of the great things about this marching band,” Mendez, 17, said. “It’s not just one person that’s carrying this band. We’re all dedicated and committed.”
Although the band finished third last year, wins and losses don’t concern them. “I wouldn’t say that we’ve ever lost during my years with the marching band,” Debnath, 17, said. “We’ve either won or learned from our experiences.”
Michael Messina, the district’s chairman of music and fine arts, said he noticed that this group was special when he saw how well they worked together at band camp over the summer.
“It’s been an incredible ride for me for 23 years to see how the program has grown and to see where it is now,” Messina said. “This is our 16th year of competing at the Carrier Dome, and it really is an incredible feeling and sense of achievement and accomplishment.”
The reaction from family, friends and the community at large was overwhelming for the band, which was welcomed back with a crowd at Malverne High School on Oct. 29.
“When we came home and saw all the support, the chaperones said, ‘This is all for you guys,’” said Carly Manza, senior and color guard captain. “We were all just shocked and overwhelmed.”
Johnson said that even if the Pride of Malverne came up short, the community’s support would remain the same. “It really meant a lot to many people in the community that we brought the cup home,” Johnson said.
Alyssa Rizzuto, the band’s assistant director, explained that the musical culture is established at an early age for students in Malverne. Rizzuto, who is also the band director at Howard T. Herber Middle School, said that sixth graders are trained in the style practiced at the high school. In addition, students begin playing instruments in the school district in the fourth and fifth grade.
“There’s a certain level of excellence that the students know they need to achieve,” Rizzuto said.
Rizzuto also said that elementary school teachers have shown the video of the band’s championship performance to their students. “Students as young as kindergarten are seeing what they could be a part of one day,” Rizzuto said.
High school senior and band member Elizabeth Lawless, another color guard captain, said the group usually practices on Mondays and Wednesdays for three hours. On Saturdays, the band works for four hours and they usually compete on Sundays. “During our practice, there’s a lot of focus,” Lawless, 17, said. “We’re always trying to get better, and there’s always things that we want to improve so that when we do go up to the Dome, we’ll be at our best.”
Rizzuto said that a number of students in the band take Advanced Placement courses and play a fall sport as well. “For them to excel at all of those things,” Ruzzuto said, “I think that really speaks to the quality of Malverne and also the level of rigor that the students are ready to take on.”
Building upon a legacy
Johnson said that the band’s recent victory is another stepping stone for continued success. The Pride of Malverne was also crowned New York State champions in their division in 2006, 2010 and 2011.
“I don’t think it stops here at all,” Johnson said. “They’ve left a legacy of excellence, as have prior years, and we believe that it’s all just one big process, and it’s going to keep going.”
High school junior and color guard captain Olivia Marco said that this season has been a great learning experience. She said that there were several things that she took away from the senior color guard captains.
“We’ve all been putting in our work in different ways,” Marco, 16, said, “and I’ve just been taking note of their different styles, teaching others how to perform, and just anything to help others succeed. I was able to gather all of that knowledge and I hope to take it into the future season.”
Throughout the season, Manza, 17, said that the band has used the phrase, “keep climbing,” as a constant reminder to improve.
“We believe that you shouldn’t settle for where you are,” Manza said. “You should always strive to be better the next year.”
Mendez said he hopes that this championship convinces more students to join the band, and he wants people to know that anything is possible.
“We didn’t expect to win,” Mendez said, “so the fact that we did, we hope that it opens eyes for anyone.”
The Malverne School District has invested in a new music wing at the high school, which Messina said should be completed next year. The music wing, he said, will be another way that the Pride of Malverne builds upon its “family” and legacy.
“I tell other students that have graduated that they’re going to be a part of that facility, too,” Messina said. “The reason that it was built was because of what everyone has accomplished over the years.”