Gurnee residents who live near the Warren Township High School Almond Road campus have no doubt known for weeks that something is very different about the Warren Township Blue devil Marching Band this year.
Since the day last spring that Warren Township High School Director of Bands Chris Jenkins announced that the two existing marching bands would be merged into one, anticipation has grown as the community awaits the band's first field performance tonight, when the more than 300-member band will perform at the football game in Gurnee versus New Trier.
Jenkins says the combined band is the largest of its kind in the state. The audience will notice more than the sheer size of the group, though.
In previous years for "marching season," the members of the seven concert bands at WTHS have been divided into two marching bands. One band, nicknamed the "competition band," performed almost exclusively at regional marching competitions and members were chosen by audition only. The rest of the students made up the "show band" that performed at all the home football games.
Other than appearances in local parades and an annual fundraiser on the WTHS O'Plaine campus, the student population and the community never really got the opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of the "competition band" in its full regalia, combining precisely choreographed drills with top-notch musicianship.
The drum line and color guard units practiced over the summer, and the full band began a two-week camp the last week in July. Since then, the large group has continued working on music and drills in anticipation of their upcoming season.
Jenkins along with fellow directors Kurt Gros and Drew Russell have their hands full as they continue to work with such a large number of students.
"We are confidant that this is the largest high school marching band in Illinois," Jenkins said. "It is very exciting to be able to showcase it and to bring it out to the community, and to the school and the state."
The participation level at Warren has always been high due to the overall tradition of the excellence of the music program, he added.
The director and senior members of the band say one of the challenges has been teaching the less-experienced musicians.
"This year we have a lot more inexperienced people and underclassmen and we have to take them under our wing. We have to teach them and make sure that they know the music as well," said Haisi Liu, 17, a senior at Warren and clarinet player.
"I think it's exciting because during football games we get to show the school what the competitive band is," she added. "The school and the students at the football games will be impressed. The marching band pretty much doubled in size this year. Yesterday, we had people running into each other around crashing."