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An Audio Postcard From Band Camp


We travel to New Bern High School where students are learning music and drill for their 2014 show "Framed In Black."

We can feel summer winding down… students are savoring the last few weeks of vacation before school starts again.  But some have already returned to practice and rehearse at summer band camp.  Today, we’re at New Bern High School to hear how the marching bears preparing for a busy season.

Over one hundred band students stand motionless with their instruments in playing position, waiting for the metronome to start.  As soon as the drum major has the tempo, she waves her hands and counts the band in.  Most students are still, some march in place.  Right now, the band is focusing on the music.  So they play the same section again and again.  Tyler Toohey is a rising junior and the band’s assistant drum major.  He says being outside during the dog days of summer from eight in the morning to six in the evening builds relationships.

"It definitely makes us more of a family. From making us more of a family, we get to care more about each other and then we just keep on helping each other and pushing each other, so that’s usually how it goes.”


The Marching Bears are preparing for their performance during halftime shows at football games, and at several competitions, where they will compete against other high school bands across the state.  This year, their show is called “Framed In Black” and features the music of “Pictures At An Exhibition” and Rolling Stone’s “Paint In Black.”  New Bern High School’s Band Director Chris Elbing says band camp offers students more than just music skills.

"the students are working together, they’re developing life-long relationships, they’re learning how to work hard and push themselves, and they’re learning a lot of skills that they’re not getting on a day to day basis, they might not get in math classes.”

Campers learn a variety of marching techniques at band camp that allow them to move forward, backward, and laterally across the field.  They also learn how to roll their feet so their instruments don’t bounce.

“It can be demanding on the younger kids, it’s almost like learning walking and talking at the same time. So we have a lot of staff that we bring in, also some student leaders step up and show the students, and work with them and spend a lot of time.”

Christina Hardtle is the head drum major.

“I mostly supervise over conducting the music, and looking through the scores and making sure the sections have their music dealt with.”

Hardtle works in tandem with assistant drum major Toohey to make sure the show is ready for competition.  In addition to conducting, directing, and leading, Hardtle says they assume the role of a cheerleader.

“we go on the field and when we see someone slouching or their head is down, we’re always the one to go out there and pick them up because we know a lot of these students personally, and if we don’t, we get to know them through band camp.  And that really helps them when you know them and something is going on in their life to help pick up their spirits and push through one more set.”


What set marching bands apart from other bands is movement as students creating patterns with their bodies.  Not on the grid is New Bern High School’s band director Chris Elbing.  He’s perched in a tower, 30 feet above the practice field. From there, he can see spot mistakes and correct them.

The practice field is marked like a football field, with a painted line every ten yards.  The band students use these lines as position markers as they practice drill. At band camp, Elbing says they rehearse moving from one spot to the next over and over again.

“It teaches muscle memory and making sure there’s consistency. We know that perfection isn’t necessarily realistic but we always strive to make it as perfect as possible each time.  And the students know each time they get a second chance, they want to make it better.”

While perfection isn’t immediately rewarded, there are consequences for taking an extra step or two…. pushups. And at band camp, there are lots and lots of pushups.  Elbing insists it’s not really a punishment, it’s more for focus and strength building. 

“people would be surprised that we do a lot of conditioning, we start the day off running a lap around the track we do a lot of core exercises, crunches, planks, we believe that having the kids condition makes them better musicians, and they actually do need to, they’re athletic on the field.”

Band camp isn’t just about fun, it’s also hard work.  Elbing encourages the band students to drink plenty of water and to take breaks.  On the sidelines, Neil Zogopoulous is resting. 

“Band camp, it’s great. I mean, weather, it’s great to me. Everyone else is like it’s so hot, I’m out here, this is amazing and everything.”

He plays tenors, which are a series of four drums tuned to different pitches.

“it’s fun to play, percussion has a lot of interesting parts to play, a lot of difficult parts to play, but we can get it.’


Even as the week long summer camp ends, the marching band will continue to rehearse their show when school returns during band class and after hours. 

“Typically, the first or second performance you won’t see the entire thing, you might only see the first half.  And then throughout the year, you’ll see entire production.”

At band camp, the sun-screen coasted students are dressed in t-shirts, shorts, and hats.  But during football games and competitions, the Marching Bears will be dressed in elaborate uniforms, with ornate helmets with feathery plumes.  This year, the band has more students than they’ve had in five years, so they’re trying to raise money to buy more uniforms.  Elbing says they’ve had to get creative to make up for the shortage of costumes.

“It works out this year, we’re going to use black chef’s coats, they’re going to be part of the show, but they also serve a dual purpose because we just don’t have enough outfits for the kids.  So in order for everyone to be uniformed, that’s what they’re going to have to do.”

In addition to performing at football games and competitions, the New Bern High School Marching Band entertains the community by performing in parades and at Christmas ceremonies.  This year, Elbing has planned performances for nursing homes in the area.  For more information on the Marching Bears, go to newbernbands.org.

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.