The Kingston High School Tiger band placed second in the Large School 2 division of the New York State Field Band Championships late last month, earning an 88.70 from the judges, the program’s highest ever score in the annual competition.
Under the direction of Stephen Garner and Jeffrey Giebelhaus, the band performed their Americana field show at the JMA Wireless Dome at Syracuse University on Sunday, October 30. The eight-minute performance included music by American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein and was a tribute of sorts to Kingston High’s title winning performance at the championships a decade earlier. This time around, the music was professionally arranged for this group of kids.
“This was kind of a variation on what we had done in 2012,” Garner said. “But to me the music just stands on its own. Doesn’t matter whether you’re doing a jazz band or a concert ororchestra, it’s just really, really awesome music.”
In addition to the faculty’s musical directors, the performance also included visual design by Nick Avossa, Preston Coppage, Daniel Dittus, and Victoria Youlio.
This was Kingston’s second visit to the championships since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 event. It was a much more satisfying result than last year’s seventh place finish.
“I knew we had done really well, but because we march, the next largest band in our division is probably 60 or 70 less than us, and we’re being judged on visual and marching technique. I didn’t know what to expect,” Garner said. “And I felt justified. I think that’s the word. Because I knew how well we had played and I knew that we demand more of our students than any of the other bands.”
Unlike other school programs, Kingston High has a single band, meaning there are kids who are busy with other activities. Students like senior Carla Bautista, who plays clarinet in the band and who returned to Syracuse on Saturday, November 12 for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships, where she placed 37th out of 107 in the Class A 5K race, finishing with a time of 20:00.5. But being busy makes sense to Bautista.
“If you find that you love the stuff you’re doing, you’re going to find a way,” she said. “Because a lot of the time it’s coming from school and studying to practice all the way to five o’clock, then to rehearsal all the way to nine. And then you have your homework on top of that. But if you enjoy both, which I do, you find a way.”
For Bautista and fellow seniors, like Camila Ortiz, who also plays clarinet and performed in the color guard, Syracuse was the culmination of a difficult few years after the Class of 2023 was part of a title winning band as freshmen.
“This year especially meant everything, especially after COVID and the hardships,” Bautista said. “Coming back my junior year, we placed seventh, which was really unexpected and we were proud of what we did, but the score didn’t reflect that. But besides that, we came back this year and getting second place, it fulfilled having those four years and how much work we put in and how we stayed throughout the whole thing. We didn’t quit.”
“Personally it was a great achievement,” she said. “It’s incredible. There’s no words to describe it, because we practiced so hard and I really took time out of my day to help myself learn things that I needed, help others. And it was just a great accomplishment when I would look around during a certain piece of the song and really see that everyone was together and focused. And that meant a lot to me. And then as a band, again, it means a lot because all my fellow seniors, we’ve been doing this for four years, so we all wanted it really badly.”
Garner said the 185 students in the Kingston High School Tiger Band have a disadvantage compared to other large school programs because they don’t have a dedicated practice field.
“We use Dietz when we can, and actually use the Crosby Elementary School too,” Garner said. “But most of these schools, they walk outside their room, their band room, and there’s their field, and we don’t have that luxury. We have to share it with everybody and their 29 cousins. So it makes it sweeter when you get rewarded and recognized for doing really well.”
Garner said the experience at Syracuse will stay with the kids who performed there for the rest of their lives, as it has with former members of the Kingston High School Tiger Band.
“After Syracuse, I probably had 25, 30 texts, emails,” Garner said. “…about four or five years ago, I had a lady stop me on the street and she was a drum major in my band and she was a lawyer in (Washington) D.C. and she said, ‘If I could survive your interviews for leadership, if I could survive band camp for four years, I could do anything. And I had no confidence going into band. And now I’m a district attorney.’”