For the second year in a row, Mineola High School’s Marching Band placed first in their division at the New York State Field Band Conference State championship held at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, from Oct. 26-27.
This year’s show, “The Walkabout,” was written entirely by Mineola staff members about the Aboriginal Australian culture. It is a story of a tribe with a 12-year-old boy learning how to live off the land, as the ancestors had done.
Under the direction of Christopher Toomey, students have been diligently rehearsing the show since last May. The band, which placed first in the Small Schools II Division, was welcomed home by members of the school community and a special escort from the Mineola Volunteer Fire Department.
Recently, Toomey answered some questions from the Mineola American about the show, the dedication of his students, what’s next for the marching band and more.
Q: Each year, the marching band has a show theme. What was this year’s theme and how did it come to be?
A: This year’s show was titled “The Walkabout.” Two of our staff members visited Australia in the summer of 2018 and they came back with a fascination of how much culture and history there is in Australia. But we do not learn about it here in the United States. We decided that it was a perfect opportunity to educate our students, our audience and ourselves on the Aboriginal Australian culture.
“The Walkabout” is a rite of passage, which a 12-or 13-year-old Aboriginal boy partakes in. As they grow up, the men of the tribe teach the young boy about how to survive off the land like their ancestors did. At 12 or 13 years old, they send the youth out into the wilderness, alone, for anywhere from a few weeks to six months. Our marching band’s show tells the story of a young boy going on Walkabout. Notice the wording, it is used similarly to our word vacation. You can plan “a vacation,” but when you actually go, you “go on vacation.” We are introduced to his tribe in the beginning of the show and then he is set off into the wilderness on Walkabout. His journey begins and he is excited and full of energy. That energy soon wears out as he finds himself deep into the desert. He becomes hungry, thirsty and close to death. He finds his way to a river and is amazed at the wonderful things Mother Nature can provide for him. But, he learns that what Mother Nature can give, can also be taken away. A storm begins rolling in and he must make his way up a mountain. In the depth of the storm, he finds his way over the mountain and sees his tribe on the other side. They welcome him home in celebration, as his Walkabout comes to a close.
Q : This is the band’s second win in two years. Can you speak on the dedication of your students? How much practice or training did members do to prepare?
A: When the students are in marching band season (May to October), marching band really becomes their life. During our spring training (May/June), we practice three hours per week. In the summer (July/August), that gets bumped up to seven hours per week. Yes, the students come in seven hours per week during their summer vacation. At the end of the summer, we go away for one week to Camp Towanda in the Poconos, PA, for an intensive week of training. Once the school year begins, we still practice seven hours per week, but now with competitions added in every weekend. We participate in seven different competitions, plus the NYSFBC championships at Syracuse University. This activity demands dedication and excellence from every member, and they continue to rise to the occasion.
Q: What are you most proud of being the coach of the marching band?
A: Our group truly does become a family. Lifelong friends are made, students make career choices in the arts and our activity teaches them life lessons that will always stick with them.
Q: What was the reaction when it was announced that you won?
A: When you’ve found out that you won, it is by process of elimination. They begin by announcing last place, and then work their way up. They announce the eighth place, then seventh, sixth, all the way down to second. If your name is not called for second place, you instantly know that you have won. The students began crying tears of joy and hugging each other before they even announced our name and score. When they do indeed announce it, the cheering begins.
Q: What’s next for the marching band? Are there any more important events coming up?
A: The marching band is always so honored at how our community embraces them. Last year, they were honored at board of education meetings, village hall meetings and even have special treats, like Williston Park naming an official “Mineola Marching Band Day” in 2018. We will have a special marching band Esprit De Corps dinner on Nov. 20.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the band?
A: We really wanted to take this cultural experience to the next level for our students. We did a video conference with an Aboriginal artist, but planning a time was difficult with the 17-hour time difference, so they could learn first hand about the art, culture and history of the Aboriginal Australians. Also, it is true that someone takes home the Championship Governor’s Cup every year at the end of the season, but it is very rare to happen in consecutive years. Since the New York State Field Band Conference began in 1974, only four other bands have ever won the SS2 Governor’s Cup in back-to-back years. Mineola is proud to join this elite team, becoming the fifth school in NYSFBC history to achieve this.