As the Louisa Lions football team celebrated their homecoming win at The Jungle on Friday, Oct. 25, the players knelt in the southern end zone, paying their respects to fellow athletes of the field.
At midfield, drum major Caleb Snyder gestured vigorously as he directed the troops, who meticulously marched from one specific spot on the field to the next to form a complex array of formations as part of their performance entitled, “Celtic Warfare.”
In his six years as the director of Louisa County High School’s marching band, Lamb has seen the group’s performances and competition ratings steadily improve.
Off to the side, band director William Lamb motioned his hands to help members of the drum line and those playing woodwind instruments keep their tempo.
It was in that moment that the football team realized what many others are learning as well: Louisa’s marching band is the real deal.
“I tell the kids all the time, ‘All I expect of you is perfection,’” Lamb said with a smile in a recent interview.
Lamb has had, quite literally, a front row seat as the band transformed into the dizzying, competitive unit it is today. The program starting competing seven years ago, and Lamb has been at the helm for six of them.
This year’s squad earned an “excellent” rating from the Virginia Band and Orchestral Directors Association, their highest ranking in Lamb’s tenure, and their scores have increased each year.
The rating verifies what many teams that have hosted Louisa in football have since discovered. The Marching Lions are the only team in the district and one of the few teams in the area that travel to away games. Blaring away at their vast library of jarringly symphonic tunes, the Lions bring a unique feel to the football team despite being on the road.
“It takes the atmosphere of our home field to another field,” Lamb said. “For the kids, they like to do it because it gives them something exciting to do on a Friday night. They genuinely enjoy football games.”
And while everyone sees and hears the finished result of the band’s work during a crucial moment of the game – one where the band seems to hit those specific notes created seemingly to do nothing but fluster the opposition – it’s the intricate planning that goes on behind the scenes that makes the performance come together.
Over the spring and summer months, Lamb combs through everything, be it melodies from other marching bands or tunes from video games, to influence his choice of what style to focus on for the upcoming year.
After hearing a few Celtic-inspired lines of music from various sources, Lamb settled on this year’s theme. The music’s mixture of high-low brass and woodwind notes fashioned a battlefield of sound in Lamb’s mind.
Perhaps more intimidating a task than the musical challenge, though, was the physical requirements. Band members were required to memorize 54 different sets of positioning drills, marching to and fro from one spot to the next while maintaining a forward gaze during their 12-minute performance.
“You’re moving at a decent clip,” Lamb said. “If you play a wind instrument, you’re exhaling the whole time. It’s fairly exhausting. Depending on the speed and volume of the music, it takes a whole lot out of you. It’s a very physical activity.”
And while Lamb is quick to compare the similarities of the players who knelt and watched with those who marched and played, he does find a difference in the two.
“In football, say the line doesn’t block, the quarterback can still scramble,” Lamb said of his analogy. “In band, everybody has to be at their top level of performances in order for everyone to succeed at a top level of performance. If you have just one person who doesn’t know the drill, the whole band suffers. It’s kind of unique.”
Judging by the awards given to the team so far this year, the band’s members have been running like a finely-tuned machine.
The band took home third place trophies for both their color guard and general effects during an invitational at Mills Godwin High School on Saturday, Nov. 2. They also won the fan favorite award on Friday, Oct. 5 at the Spotsylvania Invitational.
In terms of individual awards, Snyder took home first place honors as the top drum major at the Caroline Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 21, while the drum line as a unit took third place overall.
For Lamb, just getting the group of 50 students to work together, much less at their most efficient level, is an accomplishment that he looks back on with pride.
“Anytime you have a group of high school students spend a lot of time together, personalities tend to clash, and you get your fights and bickering here and there,” Lamb said. “We didn’t really have that much this year. They listened well to me … They stayed focused on their goals, understanding that they had to work hard to make it happen.”
Looking back at the accomplishments of this year’s squad and their overall camaraderie, Lamb uses words such as “awesome” and “refreshing” repeatedly. Those words are repeated on overdrive when he considers the future high school building, which will feature a fine arts wing near the entrance of the school.
The new building will offer a sharp contrast to the Lions’ situation.
Currently, the band keeps its instruments in various storage units outside of the school’s modular buildings. When performance space at Louisa County Middle School is unavailable, practices are held in the modular units themselves.
To read the entire story, see the Nov. 21 edition of The Central Virginian.