Bruce Edmiston, the new music director at the school, felt it had been far too long, which is why the Spartan marching band competed at the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association championships at Warren High School in Downey earlier this month.
The marching band finished 11th out of 12 bands in its group, which was comprised of marching bands from Southern California with fewer than 50 members. The band at Rio Mesa has 42.
Edmiston said that, though it didn’t finish higher, the Spartan marching band is moving in the right direction.
“They wanted it, they worked for it and they deserved it,” he said of the band’s invitation to compete. “Of course we’re all a bit disappointed with the results, but I’m happy we were there.”
Edmiston took over the music program at Rio Mesa this year. Before that he was in charge of a successful choir program at Oxnard High School for 13 years. In his first year at Rio Mesa, the director said he’s found what he hopes is his last job.
“I’m here till I’m done,” said Edmiston, who has lived in Oxnard since 1975. “I love these kids.”
Megan McClellan, assistant drum major for the band, said the guidance of Edmiston has made all the difference in this year’s group. The 16-year-old junior said the band was not as tight-knit in the past few years— something the new director has changed.
“The band has had issues in the past,” said Megan, who plays the flute. “But we’ve overcome all that, and we’ve realized that championships are something we can actually attain.”
The marching band practices each morning during first period at the school, which runs from before 8 until nearly 9. In addition, when the marching band season was still in full swing, the group met after school on Wednesday and Friday each week for an extra few hours of rehearsal.
Danny Pena, a volunteer drum pit instructor at Rio Mesa, said the extra effort and discipline is what enabled the band to compete at the championships.
“They were just not used to the work ethic you need,” said Pena, a music student at UC Santa Barbara. “But now this group is focused. It has a lot of potential as long as they keep doing what they’re doing.”
Pena volunteers about 10 hours a week with the marching band, mostly working with the drummers. The Oxnard High School graduate said his mission with the drum section and the rest of the band is to increase their focus on competing.
“They weren’t capable of having fun and being good before,” Pena said. “It had to be one or the other.”
Pena said one of the strengths of the band is its student leadership.
Justin Tobey, the senior drum major, said though the band didn’t win a championship it earned something just as valuable.
“It’s nice to have the respect of the rest of the bands,” said the 17-year-old senior. “We were thrilled to even qualify and compete against really great bands.”
Justin will graduate from Rio Mesa in the spring and said competing for a championship with the marching band was one of the highlights of high school. The trumpet player said everyone in the band should be proud of the way they performed, despite their ranking.
Edmiston said the marching band had what he called a championship moment at the competition.
When Rio Mesa was announced in 11th place, the director said he could see the faces of all his students fall. Edmiston said it was clear they weren’t proud of the result.
“I was very proud of them,” Edmiston said. “They stood there with dignity and poise and applauded all the bands that finished above them.
“That’s the sign of a championship group.”