It has been a long eighteen months wait for West Milford High School’s Highlander Band and their many fans, but they are happy to once again be performing live in person at events this year.
The Highlanders have been wowing audiences and bringing home top awards thus far in competitions for their exciting 2021 Field Show, “Ring of Fire.”
2020-2021 was a tough year
The Highlander Band, like many other high school bands, has experienced a decline in enrollment due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Strict limitations on events and performances had a significant impact on the usual “Band Experience” for many students.
Band students and families eagerly fundraised, scrimped and saved up (some for four years) for their highly anticipated, overseas Performance Tour trip to Scotland/United Kingdom, which was scheduled for April of 2020. But due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the trip had to be cancelled. Some refunds were issued, but they were unable to recoup all of the money paid for their trip.
At that time, New Jersey schools had been ordered to close, and education moved to a “Distance Learning” model for the remainder of the 2020 school year. Concerts, events, activities, sports and most gatherings were cancelled, postponed or held virtually via computer livestream/meeting apps such as “Zoom,” “Skype” or “Google Meet.”
As the state slowly began to allow businesses and schools to open up again, some after-school activities were also able to restart, but only with very strict rules and gathering limits, in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases among student groups and families at such events.
For the Highlander Band, this meant that only pre-recorded “Virtual Competitions” and virtual shows were able to be held. Halftime and game- opening performances at football games were permitted only at the school’s home games and spectators were restricted to parents only, and within certain number limits.
Masked parents of the participating students were permitted to attend outdoor events, but had to also maintain social distancing from others. Team spirit support, cheerleading accompaniment, and the fun, lively, crowd-thrilling, sing-and-clap-along music typically heard coming from the band’s reserved section of the home bleachers during the games, was stifled
The band members - always masked at all times when not playing their instruments - stood or sat alongside their instruments among socially-distanced rows of chairs set up at the farthest end of the field for the first half of the games. Immediately following their halftime field show performances, the band members and equipment were then quickly packed up, paraded back down to the high school, and the students were dismissed for the evening - additional measures taken to limit crowd sizes, and reduce potential for possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
One of the band’s main sources of seasonal funding support at the football games - the WM Band Parent Association’s (WMBPA) volunteer-run Concession Stand - was also forced to remain closed for the entire 2020 season.
Although Band Directors made every attempt to make the 2020-2021 year as “normal” and enjoyable as possible for their hard-working, high-achieving, award-winning band students, much of the fun and enjoyment that typically comes along with being a member of the Highlander Band was absent.
“Band Highlights” such as: the excitement of performing at live competitions and halftime shows to large crowds of admiring fans; long bus rides spent bonding with their bandmates on the way to competitions and away football games; camaraderie and friendships made with bandmates and competitors alike; sharing meals together; showing and receiving mutual admiration, respect, and appreciation with rival bands for the hard work each band put into their shows, and enjoying the amazing performances given as a result; parades through the township; holiday concerts and special event and fundraising performances; area, regional, and State Honor Band Auditions and performances; special performance tours and trips; and more.
Even the band’s annual “Military Concert and Tattoo” show - the band’s largest fundraiser each year for over 20 years straight - were all unable to be held in the 2020- 2021 school year because of the coronavirus pandemic. For the students, staff, and families alike, it was like someone had let the air out of their balloon ... all hard work, dedication, and hard-earned successes, with little opportunity for the fun-times and celebrations together as a cohesive “Team” unit. It’s certainly a hard sell to keep a group of teens together and also recruit new members under such conditions - without being able to show or have the usual amazing opportunities and experiences that have kept most first-year students eager to continue participating and performing as members of the Highlander Band year after year.
Despite having fewer members for their 2021 season, the Highlander Band still continues to strive for excellence as they always have. They continue to excite audiences with their thrilling Field Show performances at football games. They continue to be led by an extremely talented and dedicated group of Professionals - Directors and Instructors that help instill and grow important values in their young group of musicians and performers, as well as expanding their musical and movement talents; and they combine them together in a dynamic group that continues to be a strong force to be reckoned with (and a fan favorite) among their band peer groups, competition rivals, and beyond.
Different competition division for 2021
Divisions within the Marching Band Competition Circuit are determined by the size of the band - the actual number of participating students in the Marching Band program. The Highlander Band, historically a Group 5 (Division V-A) high school marching band with over 100 members annually, is now a Group 3 (Division III-A) band, with 79 members for the 2021 Fall season.
A bit smaller but still mighty, the WM Highlander Marching Band kicked off their competition season performing their hot new 2021 Field Show, “Ring of Fire” at the Yamaha Cup Competition at MetLife Stadium on Saturday, October 2nd. The Band returned home from the event with the 2nd Place Title and Trophy for their Division.
On October 9th, the Highlander Band won 1st Place for Group III-A in the USBands Sommerville “Gold Showcase” Competition, as well as winning all Caption Awards for their Division, including: Best Colorguard, Best Percussion, Best Visual, Best Music, and Best Parent Pit Crew! A post and accompanying photo by the USBands Organization on their Facebook Page read: “The West Milford High School Highlander Marching Band with an electric performance here at Somerville!”
The Highlander Marching Band and Color Guard will be performing live at the following upcoming 2021 Marching Band Competitions:
● Pequannock Oct. 16
● Fair Lawn Oct. 23
● State Championships Oct. 30
● National Championships Nov. 6
Besides their competition circuit performances and cheering on the WMHS football team each week, the Highlander Band can also be seen performing live this year at their upcoming “21st Annual Military Bagpipe Concert & Tattoo” on Saturday, Nov. 13, at the West Milford High School Gymnasium.
Honors and tributes
Each year, the Highlander Band selects a special guest honoree to represent a particular group of people from the community to be honored at the Tattoo Concert. This year, the Highlanders will be honoring West Milford Police Officers, represented by West Milford’s own Chief of Police, James DeVore, as the Band’s Guest of Honor.
A Military Concert and Tattoo would not be complete without special tributes for Veterans and Military Service Personnel - especially when held so close to Veteran’s Day. The Highlander and Mustang Marching Bands join together for a special military musical tribute each year, in recognition of those who have served or are serving in a branch of the U.S. military, and to also provide the Community with an opportunity to publicly express their appreciation and gratitude to them for their service.
All funds raised from the 2021 Tattoo Concert will help support the Highlander Marching Band and their planned trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., this April 2022.