DOWNEY – The Warren High Marching Band and Color Guard once again made program history this year, defending their spot atop the Southern California School Band and Orchestra (SCSBOA) ladder and receiving their second consecutive gold medal.
After being stuck towards the middle of the pack, the Warren Band and Color Guard has turned a competitive corner over the last several years making a gradual climb to the top of Southern California marching bands. That climb culminated in the program’s first ever championship win last season.
With momentum on their side, the Bears looked to repeat their success in 2018.
According to Director Dave Niemeyer, however, there was some trepidation at the beginning of the season, due to one particular change in setting.
“There was a lot of concern because we actually changed divisions,” said Niemeyer. “We went up to 5A because we allowed more students to march this year. People were concerned [if] we could be as successful in another division.”
In SCSBOA field competition, 4A bands range in size from 91 to 120 students on the field. In 5A, the range increases to 121 to 150.
According to Niemeyer, there is a perception that bands become “better” and more competitive the higher the division, due to the bigger sound and – at a program level – greater amount of resources available that a larger band can bring.
“I think it’s natural to see bands get better as you get up higher,” said Niemeyer.
In the grand scheme of things, however, a big band doesn’t necessarily mean a good band.
“It doesn’t really matter what division you’re in; there’s good bands and bad bands in every division that will still be successful,” said Niemeyer. “In SCBOA, it’s just a number. It’s not definitive of quality of band.”
In fact, it was 4A – not 5A – that had more bands vying for a championship berth.
“To be quite honest, 5A only had 15 bands trying to get into championships. Only the top 12 make it. 4A had 21 bands trying to make it into championships,” said Niemeyer. “If you just look at that statistic, it’s actually harder to make championships in 4A. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harder to do well…you’ve just got to be good at what you do to win, there’s no way around that.”
In actuality, Warren has been a 5A band for several years and has stayed in the 4A division for a very specific reason.
“SCSBOA has been allowing us to host 1A / 4A Championships for marching band, so what we’ve been doing is cutting our number off at the 4A number, and all the other kids that were in the program had to be alternates,” said Niemeyer. “
To stay in the 4A division this year would have meant making 20 students alternates, a number Niemeyer says “is just nonsense.” Thus, the decision was made to make the division jump.
By moving up a division, Warren had to give up their home-field advantage – a luxury they’ve had for the past several years – and all the perks that hosting championships brings.
“We make money at championships for the program, and it’s really hard to pass up that money,” said Niemeyer. “We applied to host 2A / 5A Championships and we were denied the opportunity to do that.”
The change in division didn’t seem to faze the Bears in the long run as they went undefeated in SCSBOA competition, despite some mixed reviews of their 2018 show’s theme.
Warren’s completely custom-built show “Reverie” was set up in a “dreamscape.”
“I think that staff and I would agree to tell you that unlike last year’s show, this year’s show didn’t make any bit of sense,” said Niemeyer. “Last year’s show was this kind of ironic statement about ‘wonderful world’ but it’s not a wonderful world…This year’s show started with me and some of the staff getting together off and on and just really looking for anything that hit us as a cool idea.”
When Niemeyer found the trailer for recent Disney movie A Wrinkle in Time – and more specifically, the trailer’s theme of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by the Eurythmics – the decision was made to center the show around the song, including the purchase of the music’s rights.
Unfortunately, the dream theme got a bit lost in translation on the field.
“What didn’t come off well this year was ‘what was the show really about,’” said Niemeyer. “I hope in the future if we continue designing, I can convince my staff that we need to be a little more straight forward in our concepts so that students, parents, observers, and judges can attach themselves to it. We did get comments this year from judges that our show didn’t make sense, and we all agree with them.”
Even with a muddled theme, Warren secured gold with a score of 94.16 when it mattered.
It may be a little early to start thinking about a “three-peat,” but one thing is for sure: Warren has a secure hold on the attention of their competitors.
“Some of the band directors in 5A have asked me to go back to 4A next year,” laughed Niemeyer. “Although we’re joking about it, it’s probably serious. Warren is a bit of a dynasty right now. I was told by Murrieta Valley [High School] that we’re the ‘poster on their wall.’ They’re gunning for us.”
“These bands maybe used to have our number years ago, but we have their number right now…We have that energy behind us right now, that clout behind us.”
At the end of the day, Niemeyer says “Whoever wins, wins,” and that Warren will continue to strive for greatness.
“My goal would be to just stay a phenomenal program,” said Niemeyer. “I think as long as we stay in the top three of the division we’re in, I think that’s 110 percent success.”