Marching Mania

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Andrea Tripp waves one of the flags as the band plays at a Panther football game.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

The sound of percussion echoes throughout. Saxophones, xylophones, trumpets, tubas, french horns and more horns play in pure harmony.

Sitting in the crowd watching a football or basketball game is what millions of people do for fun.

Sports is entertainment.

While athletes young and old, and athletes of various skill level perform for folks’ entertainment, people often forget about the other performers in attendance.

Hand-eye-coordination, synchronized movement and strong lungs are needed in sports — and playing in the marching band.

Playing an instrument and mastering it takes discipline and countless hours of practice — like sports.

The bottom line is people need to be entertained. Cue the marching band. Whether it’s at halftime or when a team makes a good play or when the game ends, cue the marching band.

There’s no secret to Montezuma-Cortez High School’s marching band success.

The band has marched to 30 Colorado Bandmasters Association finals in the 31 years of the CBA’s existence.

Success comes from work and dedication. The kids show up to practice, so they can keep up during a performance.

A simple formula that requires a lot of work.

This year has definitely required more work than other years. The marching band is made up primarily of freshmen.

“I have 52 students in the group and 28 are brand new,” said M-CHS band director Rodney Ritthaler, who graduated from M-CHS in 1984. “It’s a young group. Once they come in and stick with it, they get better at the high school level.”

Experienced or inexperienced, Ritthaler has led the group for the past 14 years.

M-CHS took second in the 4A parade and field show at the Colorado West Marching Festival in Grand Junction last Saturday.

The band bused to the Grand Valley at 3:30 Saturday morning and bussed back that day. Although the travel arrangements aren’t ideal, the musicians don’t seem to mind.

“Sometimes when you wake up at 3 (a.m.), it’s hard. But we slept on the bus,” Brandy Avon said with a laugh.

Despite youth and inexperience, M-CHS held its own in Grand Junction.

“It being my first year, I was pretty pleased with it,” said Avon, a junior. “I think with the incoming people that have come in, I think we’ve done all right with it.”

Avon is green in experience. It is her first year in the pit, which is a percussion section. She plays the piano and taps the classical marimba. It’s been a new, exciting endeavor in Avon’s youthful life.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s challenging at times. But once you get everything, then it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I wanted to try it out and I think I’m going to stick with it, at least through high school.”

One of the senior musical leaders is Preston Sitton. Cortez born and raised, Sitton grew up in a household of musicians. Parents David and Pam Sitton were in the marching band, as well as all seven of their children.

“It’s kind of a family thing,” said a smiling Preston.

Preston Sitton bangs the snare drum and has led a life of music. He’ll indeed continue his life’s passion after graduating this spring. Sitton will attend Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., on a music scholarship.

“I want to go into music. I love it,” he said.

A major element in a marching band’s performance is the flag color guard. No, it’s not music. It’s musical interpretation, which takes moving in synchronization to a whole other level.

“Through body movement, dance, flag choreography, they try to get what’s happening on the field musically, on the field visually,” Ritthaler said.

Twirling and tossing, and sometimes running with flags, and dancing to interpret the music, this is the theatrical sense of a marching band.

All of these combined elements are needed merely for a what is mostly a five-to-10-minute performance.

“If you’re in the marching band here, you’re not a second stringer or sitting on the bench type of thing. You’re playing. You’re in there and you’re participating,” Ritthaler said. “If you’re not cutting your weight and doing the things asked of you, you need to start working hard to get up to everyone’s level. If you make a mistake, you make other people look bad as well.”

A joint, rehearsed effort is what makes a show work in performing arts.

A practiced, team effort is what makes a game or match work in sports.

All of which are needed to make a marching band work.

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