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The City Journals

Mountain Ridge Marching Band wins state championship

Jan 05, 2021 11:00AM ● By Justin Adams

What looked like a doomed season for the Mountain Ridge High School marching band instead turned into its first state championship trophy.

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

What looked like a doomed season for the Mountain Ridge High School marching band instead turned into its first state championship trophy. 

The year started with optimism, according to marching band director James Densley. The band would be returning nearly all its members from the previous year, the first of its existence.

For a marching band director, writing a show isn’t too different from how a coach would draw up a game plan. Both need to have a good idea of what they’re players are capable of. 

“In athletics, you make your plans early based on who your players are,” Densley said. “You base your offensive and defensive scheme on the kids. Band is similar. I plan what kind of music we’ll play that fits the strengths my students have and hide the weaknesses they might have.” 

But like many coaches at Mountain Ridge in its inaugural year, Densley didn’t know any of the kids he’d be working with when he started writing their first show.

“I wrote a very safe show that didn’t take many musical or visual risks,” he said. “I knew our band was going to be a lot of ninth graders and sophomores, and that’s what it was.”

So heading into 2020, Densley worked on writing a new show that would play to the band’s strengths. He was also expecting the band to double in size, from about 40 kids in its first year to 85 this year. But just like everything else this year, COVID-19 threw a wrench into those plans. 

The band ended up having about 20 kids opt out for the year, which made the show that Densley had been working on for months impossible. The show that the students had already spent months learning their parts for.

On the first day of the summer marching band camp, Densley told the students they’d be starting over from scratch.

“Instead of having months to prepare, we wrote the music in 24 hours,” he said. “It was a little bit shorter, but it was still at their level. By the second day, we had brand-new music.”

The show was focused on a theme of nature. It featured different movements that symbolized the various moods which nature can conjure.

“The opening of the show was majestic and beautiful,” Densley said. “We had some electric samples of nature noises. Then it transforms into a storm, with lightning and rain and wind. The music gets a little faster, a little angsty.” 

The show ended up being a hit, as the band won first place at their first competition of the season, surprising many band directors from other schools.

“Band directors do this thing where we expect teams to perform the same as they had the year before,” Densley said. “We showed up and performed and got first place; the very next week I had band directors coming up to me asking, ‘What happened?’”

In fact, the band members bought into this storyline of them going “from worst to first” that they sometimes talked about how they were like the stereotypical dorky girl from high school movies who gets a makeover and then shows up to the school dance and everyone realizes she was beautiful all along. Densley recalled hearing the student leaders break a pre-competition huddle with the cheer, “We’re the pretty girls now!”

The band continued to find success throughout the season, practicing each week for a weekend competition that could have ended up getting cancelled.

“I kept telling the kids, ‘Let’s just look at this week,’” he said. “If we make it to Saturday, that’s awesome. We’re not even going to think about next week, because next week the season could get cancelled.”

So by the time the state championship competition rolled around, the band was just happy to have made it through the season. With that attitude, the band went down to American Fork High School and played their hearts out. 

Because of COVID-19 regulations, the bands could not all be at the stadium at the same time, so the winners were announced online later that afternoon. The Mountain Ridge band was all at a park having lunch together when they received the news.

“They lost their minds,” Densley said. “It was overwhelming.”

Densely credited students’ work ethic for the band’s success.

“These kids are amazing,” he said. “In my mind, the season was wildly successful because the kids made it what they wanted it to be. I learned so much as an educator and as a band educator, more this year than I ever have about the power students have, what they’re capable of doing is far beyond what teachers or adults give them credit for.”


Members of the Mountain Ridge High Marching Band pose with the state championship trophy they won for the 5A Scholastic Division. (Courtesy of Mountain Ridge High)

 

One specific instance he recalled was the night before the state competition. He had gone out to the football field to do an equipment check and found a clarinet player out practicing through her part all on her own. A few hours later when he left, he found that much of the rest of the band had joined her for an unofficial rehearsal, organized all by themselves.

So what’s next for the marching band? First, they’ll probably be moving up a level of competition, or two. In marching band, each classification is divided into two divisions: Open and Scholastic. These are based on the number of members in the band. This year, the state championship was for the 5A Scholastic division, which is the smaller of the two. If the band has the 80-plus members it was expected to have this year, then it’ll move up to the Open Division. There’s also a good possibility that Mountain Ridge will be reclassified as a 6A school for the 2021–2022 school year. Going up a level to compete with bigger schools might be a daunting task for a school in its third year, but after overcoming what they’ve had to overcome in 2020, it may not be a problem.