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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton Marching Band begins program right in step

Oct 28, 2020 02:54PM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton High Marching Band perform in their first competition, where they took second place. (Screenshot)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It hasn’t been an easy year to start a marching band—director Mikala Mortensen will admit—but the Brighton High Marching Band has been resilient and just snagged second place in 5A at their first-ever competition, the Bridgerland Invitational.

“They have worked so hard and fought through all of the crazy that comes with being a first-year band and starting a band through a pandemic,” Mortensen shared with the Brighton community on Facebook. “Words can’t express the gratitude I feel to stand in front of them every day and the pride I felt during their performance today.”

The marching band competition, which was held at Mountain Crest High in Hyrum instead of its normal venue of Utah State University, had different guidelines, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of getting to spend the day watching other bands, the Brighton musicians, who were the first ones to perform, were told to immediately exit afterward to reduce the chance of spreading the disease. Mortensen and others had plans to watch a livestream of the competition on the bus ride home.

The road to be ready to compete during the pandemic has been bumpy. 

While marching band follows the Utah High School Activities Association’s guidelines, the 60 marching band members have their temperatures taken daily and complete health checks, and if the group has three cases, then they need to be quarantined—something students already are familiar with as Brighton High moved to online for two weeks with reporting 28 cases in late September.

The group also needs to maintain social distance, something they can do as they practice and perform on football fields. From summer, after a delayed start because of the pandemic, the group began learning their music and the 57 different coordinates for their first competition, dedicating more than 1,000 hours, including 60 hours alone one week of band camp. 

However, their parade band season was canceled in light of COVID-19. And the marching band didn’t even get to perform their show before a home crowd as they planned since the football game was canceled as one team was quarantined with too many cases of the coronavirus.

“The kids prepared really well, and it shows through the maturity of the band,” Mortensen said before competition as she prepared to hand it over to drum majors senior Hailey Timm and junior Yvonne Sun. “I have little control in the moment, so they’ll just do the best.”

And they did just that in their first competition with their show, “Shere Khan,” which plays off of the tiger from “The Jungle Book.”

“I wanted to tie into the school culture as Bengals. In fact, our music also ties into that with ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ by Guns & Roses and ‘Roar’ by Katie Perry. I wanted to connect with our community and have it be meaningful to Brighton,” she said.

The show examines to see if Shere Khan is a villain or if he is more of a victim of his circumstances, Mortensen said, as the tiger has his jungle, created with lush green backdrops parents created, that is destroyed by man—which the band illustrates through construction cones and barrels, that are in abundance on the campus as the 50-year-old school is being rebuilt on the same site. The backdrop is flipped to show an industrial scene with factories and smoke destroying the natural setting.

Mortensen said that initially band members could understand that impact as Australian wildfires were destroying animals’ habitats, but now with fires on the West Coast, it has brought that destruction and devastation closer to home.

But the story doesn’t end there. Through choreography of the flags, the audience is left with a sense of hope.

Other music in the show includes Brittany Spears’ “Toxic” and a choral arrangement of “Earth Song,” by Frank Ticheli.

Mortensen and her seven-member staff worked on the arrangement and choreography with area experts John Matthews and Mark Hartman amongst others on the half-time show, a more theatrical performance than what was known in the 1980s when marching bands played a variety of pep songs with their fight song in formations at the half.

“We still do a pregame song and play our fight song and pop songs in a ‘park and bark’ style, which helps to get the fans involved and excited, but the theatrical show stems from drum and bugle shows in the late 1990s,” she said.

The marching band is slated to perform for their home crowd at another October football games They also intend to compete at the Mt. Timpanogos Regional Invitational, American Fork Invitational and Davis Cup before state on Halloween.

Mortensen began the process of introducing the marching band in 2018, her second year at Brighton, when she approached Principal Tom Sherwood to start a drumline at the school. The band program received his support for $25,000 to purchase new drums to replace the aging equipment. 

After the momentum and success of the drumline that played at sporting events as well as school-wide functions, Mortensen gained the support to the tune of $296,000 from Canyons Board of Education in October 2019 to begin the school’s marching band.

Auditions were held campus-wide and drew an interest from musicians as well as those with dance and drama experience for the color guard.

Brighton had a strong, active marching band as did the other east side high schools—Alta, Hillcrest and Jordan in the 1980s and 1990s, but interest faded, and a framed uniform on the band room wall is a reminder of the band in days gone by.

Alta High is the only other Canyons high school that has a marching band, which returned in 2013. Hillcrest High’s band paraded into their football stadium the past two seasons, but is taking the fall off in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been quite an adventure this year putting the marching band together, but it’s been awesome,” Mortensen said.