For the 14th straight year, the Amherst Marching Comets are heading to the Ohio Music Education Association state marching band finals.
They’ll perform Oct. 31 at Hilliard Bradley High School in Columbus, where about 100 bands will go before 10-judge panels.
The trip is predicated on Amherst’s second place finish Sept. 26 to Beaver Creek at the University of Akron and — in double-header action later that day — winning the grand champion title at Revere High School.
“The judges are seeing strong training in our group that results in a cohesiveness that they see from year to year,” said marching band director Chris Barbaro. “They see a confidence exude from the band members’ performances from year to year. They also see strength in our show designs.”
The band’s 2015 competition routine is called “This Just In” and pays homage to the news media’s coverage of important world events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and NASA’s moon landing.
Audiences have seen portions of the piece during Friday night football halftime shows, but the Marching Comets will perform the full eight-minute set in Columbus.
Theatricality is a big sell for judges. Barbaro said once upon a time bands would simply perform four songs at the state competition but today judges want to be told a story using props and elaborate costumes.
The rivalry for the top marching band title in the state can be intense, with competitions sometimes coming down to spreads of just two or three tenths of a point out of a total 300 possible points.
At Akron, Amherst scored 250 points and was edged out by just eight for the top spot — though the Marching Comets took pride in besting Medina for the first time in a decade.
Barbaro said he’s become less focused on point totals in recent years and more concerned with developing students who go on to play at higher levels.
“We didn’t go to Akron hunting people down. We weren’t in competitive mode – ‘Beat them, beat them, beat them’ – we went to do our show, to share our show with people. So coming away with second place, top place, was a very humbling experience,” he said. “This is a hard-working band. They rehearse during the day and after school. Our kids are graduating from our program, going to college, and in their first year being section leaders – or within a month or two they’re being moved up the ranks… They’re going to college and killing it because of the preparation they have here.”
Competitive success flows naturally from that philosophy, he said.
Much of that can be chalked up to dedicated staff, most of whom are alumni who have assisted the band for a decade or more.
“We’re happy we have a tradition of excellence here at the Amherst Schools and we’re happy the community supports that excellence,” Barbaro said.
There is only one drawback to this year’s trip to the state finals.
It means the Marching Comets will not be in town for the city’s annual Halloween costume contest and parade on Oct. 31. The event will be held starting at 4 p.m. at the San Springs building on Park Avenue.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The Amherst Marching Comets, seen here in practice, are heading to state competition Oct. 31 in Columbus.