We hear plenty about competition between schools - on the athletic field, in test scores comparisons and in academic challenges.
But here's an area in which Cabarrus County schools have decided cooperation is better than competition: marching band.
On Sept. 17, marching bands from each of the eight high schools in Cabarrus County will gather at Mount Pleasant High for a performance without trophies or winners. Or more accurately, each school will be a winner because it will debut its show in a friendly, noncompetitive atmosphere.
This is the 15th year for the Cabarrus County Preview of Bands, according to Blair Smith, band director at Jay M. Robinson High School. Because the band directors have chosen to emphasize cooperation rather than competition, they "do everything in their power" to avoid each other at traditional marching band competitions, said Bart Tulbert, band director at Mount Pleasant. As a consequence, they would rarely get to see one another's shows, were it not for the annual Preview.
Marching band has changed a lot since I was in high school. Gone are the days when the director was thrilled if we managed to remember left from right and the band's biggest achievement was forming the shape of a letter or two on the field.
Now marching band shows are beautifully choreographed around challenging music reflecting a concept. The variety is amazing. For example, Concord High School's program is called "Three Ring Circus," while Northwest's concept is billiards.
Richard Rinehardt, program administrator for Hickory Ridge bands, said their program came about as he and students contemplated the school's history and the bright future ahead. They developed the concept of a fire burning within and will play music from "Vesuvius" and "The Firebird" to go with that theme.
Smith's band at Robinson will perform a show called "On the Waterfront," with a variety of water-themed music, from "Anchors Aweigh" to "Under the Boardwalk."
Mount Pleasant's show is called "Mountain Majesty" and focuses on crowd-pleasing music. Tulbert said that in the past, the band's shows have been more "cerebral" and focused on storytelling. This year they wanted a lighter, happier tone.
Since the music is primarily bluegrass, the show will include some instruments not usually associated with marching band: a banjo, an upright bass and even a washboard.
All the directors I talked with emphasized that the Preview of Bands is all about encouraging each other and providing an outstanding environment in which to debut their shows. At the end of the evening, all the bands will take the field together to play "America the Beautiful," a very fitting way to end this evening of celebration and cooperation.