By the time dusk had settled over Oakdale High School’s football field Monday evening, the stands were packed with families balancing cardboard trays of french fries on their laps and chattering excitedly with their neighbors.

They were here for a different kind of Friday Night Lights — a series of performances typically relegated to half-time at high school football games.

Just past 6 p.m., a low, brassy note cut through the crisp fall air. The sweet melody of a flute soon floated over the field in reply.

After being cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Frederick County Public Schools Marching Band Festival was back in full swing Monday.

Kimberly Hirschmann, the curriculum specialist for secondary visual and performing arts at FCPS, said the annual marching band festival has been happening for as long as she can remember. Students and their families really missed it last year, she said.

Unlike other performances students participate in throughout the band season, the festival isn’t a competition. Instead, Hirschmann said, it gives the county’s 10 marching bands the chance to share their music and choreography with the community and each other without the pressure of being ranked.

“That doesn’t always happen when you’re at a band competition and you know you’re on a tight schedule,” she said. “You’re off the bus and you perform, and then you’re on the bus . . . [At the festival, students] get to see, ‘Oh this school, they have a different show, but the work they put in is the same work that I put in.’”

Participating marching bands still received feedback on their performances from a panel of four judges that included experts in music, visuals, color guard and percussion. These comments will help band directors and their students refine and enhance their shows for the rest of the season, Oakdale High School theater teacher Mike Copen told the audience at the start of the festival.

Monday night was also special because it marked the first countywide marching band festival Oakdale High School has hosted in years.

Even though Jeremy and Susan Leftwich no longer have children in the school’s marching band — their daughter couldn’t fit the activity in her busy schedule this year — they decided to stick with the band boosters partly to help organize the event.

The festival is a huge fundraiser for the school’s band, but more importantly, Jeremy Leftwich said, it’s a great opportunity for students who might not usually compete against one another to see each other perform.

He knows firsthand how big of an impact marching band can have on someone’s life. He and his wife met while performing with the Baltimore Raven’s marching band (she was on mellophone and he played saxophone, before being promoted to the “head band geek” position of drum major). They have also seen what Oakdale’s music program has done for their two children.

“It’s a phenomenal asset that really teaches them everything,” Leftwich said. “Not only musicianship, but time-management skills and all the soft skills that future employers will look for — problem solving, even some math.”

This year, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School’s marching band put on a performance entitled “The Lost Relic” — something its band director, Nicholas Gasemy, described as an “Indiana Jones-style heist show.”

He worked with the band’s drill writer and color guard coordinator to write the choreography, in which members of the color guard pretend to be explorers setting out to recover a giant gem that is being worshipped by an ancient civilization — played by the rest of the marching band.

Before the festival began, TJ High School students hung out at the edge of another football field on Oakdale’s campus. Around their necks, they wore beaded necklaces Gasemy said they had made themselves. It was a way for them to have more of a stake in the show and make it really feel like their own, he said.

This is his fourth year as the band’s director, but his history with TJ’s marching band goes back even further. He used to perform with the marching band when he attended the school. He even served as its drum major.

“It’s a lot of fun to be back and give back to a program that gave me so much,” he said.

The return of the county’s marching band festival also meant the return of “airgrams” — messages that community members could pay for Copen to deliver to student performers over the loudspeaker. Copen described them as a “wonderful opportunity” for parents to embarrass their children in front of thousands of people.

“Feel free to comment on dirty rooms, not bringing food into their bedrooms, doing the dishes, taking dogs out for a walk, whatever,” he said, making families chuckle. “I’m the Ron Burgundy of marching band festivals — if you write it, I’ll say it.”

At the start of the evening, Copen had his own message for the audience: “Isn’t it nice to actually have a marching band festival this year?”

The sounds of cheers and applause reverberated through the stands.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier

(4) comments


Great event, great evening. All the bands should be proud of their performances.


I would have loved to have known this was happening so I could attend. We read the entire printed paper and never saw any announcement in the paper.


They rarely announce events like this. If I had know about the festival up in Sabillasville last Saturday we would gone to it.


I started keeping a calendar of annual events a few years back. It’s basically a spiral notebook with events listed by month and a specific weekend if applicable. I’m constantly adding to it. Then I review it to see what might be coming up and go look for detailed info with the relevant organization.

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