It must be the new uniforms.
The North Bergen High School marching band, which received sparkling new uniforms from the Board of Education before the school year began, is perhaps enjoying the best year in the history of the program.
The band, under the guidance of director George Haviland, has placed highly in four competitive United States Scholastic Band Association events in New Jersey, registering some of the best scores the Bruin band ever achieved.
“We have taken some tremendous strides this year,” Haviland said. “We’ve grown into a strong music ensemble. We’re now a very entertaining and a very competitive marching band.”
Before the season began, the Board of Education approved the purchase of new uniforms – the first time that the band was dressed in natty new threads in seven years. A group called Friends of North Bergen Music got the ball rolling with a fundraiser that helped to purchase gloves and berets, and the Board of Education followed suit.
“The Friends group were the ones who did the pushing,” Haviland said. “They were the force behind it, and the board responded. When we got the new uniforms, we were ecstatic. They look great, and it feels good for the kids to have new uniforms after a number of years. We’re now with everyone else in terms of uniforms.”
The new uniforms didn’t go unnoticed by the members of the band.
“They look great and feel fantastic,” said senior Jesenia Rivera, a drum major. “The motivation was there and gave us more confidence.”
The first competition that North Bergen went to was in South Brunswick, where the band took fourth with a score of 74.
“It was the highest score in the history of the band for a first time out,” Haviland said. “I had a good sense then that it was going to be a successful season.”
The band performed a three-song set called “Latin Extravaganza Dos,” because they recently had a set that had the same name.
“Latin numbers are hot and the kids really get into them,” Haviland said.
The set includes the famous “Spain” by Chick Correa, along with “Speak Up Mambo” and “Millennia.”
The second competition was in North Brunswick, at the 22nd Annual Raider Band Competition. The Bruins took second place there, with a score of 79.3, trailing only Metuchen, which had a score of 79.8. They also won the awards of Best Music and Best Percussion among the 13 bands in the competition.
The next event was the Bergenfield Invitational, and the Bruins were the top scorer there, earning a score of 81.1. At that competition, the Bruins defeated powerhouse bands like the ones from Garfield, Hasbrouck Heights, River Dell, Park Ridge, Tenafly and Paterson Kennedy.
They also earned individual awards for Best Color Guard, Best Percussion, Best Visual Performance and Best Overall Performance.
Finally, the Bruins competed in the Music and Pageantry Under the Lights Competition at Hasbrouck Heights High School. The Bruins earned first place among Group 3 bands (60-to-80 members) with a score of 81.3 and had Best Music, Best Color Guard, Best Percussion, Best Visual and Best Overall Performance. Of the 20 schools that performed at Hasbrouck Heights, Kearny was the only one to get a higher score of 83.55.
The strong performance and solid improvement from competition to competition is a credit to the hard work of the kids.
“They’ve come within just a few points of having our best score ever,” Haviland said. “These kids have really worked hard since we started in August.”
Kids speak out
Rivera, who will head to Rutgers next fall, majoring in journalism, said that the improvement was evident from the beginning of the season.
“The band has been getting better each week and practicing very hard,” Rivera said. “You can definitely see the growth. It’s been the best experience for all of us, but it’s definitely what I needed. It’s been so much fun. The music is fun. We really get into it.”
Fellow senior Jhill Shah, who is a section leader in the band and plays the clarinet, agreed.
“We had very high expectations coming into the year,” said Shah, who hopes to study medicine in college. “We were hoping to do just as good as last year, but we’ve done better. Being in the band is great fun. I can’t even compare it to anything else in my life. When we go on the field, we’re a family and that’s what band is all about. We come together and care for each other.”
Senior Mitesh Patel, another drum major, feels that the band is a team.
“We’re just as much of a team as the football team,” Patel said. “We stuck it out through some tough times and we just keep getting better and better. Marching band has been the best experience I’ve had in high school. It’s something I look forward to and doing every day.”
The Bruins’ marching band will now head to the All-States championships in Hershey Park in Pennsylvania this weekend, with a hope of improving on past performances.
“Last year, we finished seventh out of 17 bands there,” Haviland said. “Hopefully we’ll have a stronger finish this year. The competition is tough, but I feel good about our chances.”
If the band does well, it will be a fitting farewell for Haviland, who is stepping down as band director after 20 years.
“It takes a lot of time and I need to spend some time with my family,” Haviland said. “I will always be there to support them, but they need to give the directorship to some younger guys.”
So Haviland is hopeful that the Bruins hit their final high note this weekend.
“Either way, it has been a great season,” Haviland said.