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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest’s marching band puts one foot forward as it returns with shows after 30-year-plus absence

Aug 02, 2021 12:59PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High student-musicians paraded into their football stadium here in 2019; this year they will transition into a marching band. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Carolyn Harward Heaton remembers putting on her green and white marching band uniform and being “front and center” playing her flute during the pregame and halftime shows of the Hillcrest High football games.

“We’d play ‘Go, Fight, Win,’ the school song and our fight song for pregame shows; we played ‘Pink Panther,’ ‘Hey, Hey, Hey, Good-bye,’ and the victory march a lot too,” said the 1988 alumna, who played under band teacher Ernie Northway. “The uniforms were really hot, and it was the years when they tried to introduce orange as a school color so some of them had orange in them. We’d practice every chance we could get on the football field and another four hours on our own.”

That was one of the last years Hillcrest High had a band that marched, until 2018 when band director Austin Hilla introduced a parade band that would march to drum cadence, stopping occasionally to play songs, as they headed into the football stadium. Then, they played as a pep band in the stands.

That was the first year in a five-year plan he said then, not expecting COVID-19 to interrupt the plan as the band didn’t even play. 

This year is the third year, and the student-musicians will take to the field with both a pregame and halftime show.

Principal Greg Leavitt remembers playing trumpet and marched in a green and white uniform at his Nevada high school.

“I loved playing and want to support our students to play and be part of a group here, but we’re taking it one step at a time,” he said backing the introduction of a marching band.

Hilla, who has taught at the school for the past four years, said the first year of marching band will be noncompetitive.

“It’s a little bit more of an incremental approach,” he said. “The kids have been playing and we’ve been working on how they sound. This year is going to be the first year where we march for audiences. We could have just immediately started marching, but there were certain things that I just felt like needed to happen for the community and for the kids, how they approach problems and how they approach making music, and how they are with each other that needed to get worked on and done first.”

He has been pleased with the progress and culture that has developed.

“They’ve qualified for state for four years in every assemble and are seeing more and more success,” he said, adding that additionally, they listen to their performance and can hear that “they sound better all the time and they’re on a positive trajectory. I’ve been really pleased with it.”

Hilla said that he was talking with Midvale Middle School band director Wyatt Gilles, who will be the marching band’s assistant director, about the marching band’s vision.

“My big thing was I wanted to be engaging for the audiences with the music we pick, the way we’re going to portray it and the way we’re going to be in the band. I want it to be more like something that reaches up and grabs you, so the music is pretty exciting,” he said.

The Husky Big Green Marching Band will consist of all his student-musicians, who are participating in a three-week, eight hours per day, summer band camp in late July and early August.

“Everybody learns how to march, and everybody learns how to march this pregame and they play in the stands, to support the community and football games,” he said. “We’ll play the fight song, and we’ll play some sort of pop tune for the student section, and we’ll make a tunnel for the football team and enhance the atmosphere of the game to make it even more exciting.”

The halftime show will be for his players who participate in three-hour Tuesday and Thursday after-school practices. This year, the music will be geared more toward audiences than judges. 

“We’re doing some Cirque du Soleil stuff and like some Castilian Spanish music. For live music, it’s really interesting and there’s a lot of percussion features,” he said about the three-song, approximately six-minute performance.

Also joining the marching band staff is Mike Weber, University of Utah doctoral candidate who has worked with drum corps and will help with some of the band’s “visuals” on the field. Hilla also hopes to bring in alumni who are ungraduated music majors to help with the marching band.

This first year Hilla has focused on purchasing percussion equipment and marching brass. This has included three sousaphones, three mellophones and two baritones, with the expectation to purchase more in the coming year.

A $5,000 anonymous donation is being used to purchase a powered subwoofer and speakers to amplify the keyboard percussion and the synthesizers, he said.

Since this year is noncompetitive, the band will march at the five home games in matching “contemporary” clothes, with a black long sleeve shirt, pants and shoes.

“The next big push is going to be uniforms. We’re already in the preliminary stages of working with a custom marching uniform-maker,” Hilla said adding that after the equipment and logistics are done, the Huskies will be able to compete in two to three years. “They’re not going to look like Hillcrest did in the ’80s and ’70s where you wear the Big-10 styles; they won’t die in the polyester uniforms.”

His current plan is to have a green, black and silver uniform that is similar to a trench or a firefighter’s coat that extends below the knee with a shako with a long plume. He also said that there’s “a summer wave version of the uniform where you don’t use that topcoat” that has a contemporary look.

Hilla said it will depend on the manufacturers as to when Hillcrest will wear the uniforms as much of the supply has been slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Introducing a color guard also will come “over the next few years” in his master plan when he can bring in more staff for that set of skills and expertise.

“Right now, there’s a lot of interest in (marching band),” Hilla said. “We’re excited for it.”