MUSICAL NIGHTHAWKS - Tucson Local Media: Import


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Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002 11:00 pm

If you happen to be driving in the area of Naranja Drive and La Cholla Boulevard in the morning and hear Latin music drifting through the air, you're probably not crazy.

What you're hearing is the sound of the Ironwood Ridge High School Band practicing its first-ever marching show on the school's football field, at 2475 W. Naranja Drive.

The band's first performance will be Friday Aug. 30 at the beginning of the Nighthawk's first home varsity football game.

"My goals for the first game were the National Anthem, the fight song and the opener, and we're ready for that now, so that's really encouraging for me," said IRHS Band Director Mark Hodge. "They're kind of green, but they're ready for it."

Under Hodge's direction, the band will also be putting itself in the school's history books as the first band to compete in events around the state.

Its show, called "First Impressions," will have an upbeat Latin theme, but the name of the show is what Hodge and his students really want to get across to the public.

"We couldn't really lock in on a name," Hodge explained. "We want to make a really good first impression with everything we do this year, like our first performance, so we thought that would be a good name."

The band has come a long way from its meager beginnings last year, when Hodge's 25 students had to practice in a double-wide classroom not exactly designed for achieving musical excellence.

"I told them to put us as far away from everyone as they could because we were loud," Hodge said. "But we were small enough where it didn't affect us too much."

The students were able to move into their new classroom last November, and since then, the program has only gotten better.

The marching band -- consisting solely of student volunteers from Hodge's various music classes -- has more than doubled in size to 55 students, which is almost the same size as Canyon del Oro High School's 58-member marching band. CDO has almost twice as many students as the 1,100 at Ironwood Ridge.

"I really like the idea of our band being the first for this school," said sophomore drum major Anthony Herman. "When I came here I thought that this was a new school and nothing was going to be set and I was kind of nervous about that. But coming in here, there's so much talent and we have such a great teacher, that I think it's better this way. Making the program, setting the precedent for later bands to come is just awesome."

Despite the band's growth, Hodge said he is making sure he and the students pace themselves.

Hodge said he is avoiding events like the band days at Arizona's three state universities, not from lack of confidence in his students, but from potentially unfair judging due to the band's small size. Judges rank the bands in four categories: good, excellent, superior and superior with distinction.

"Their judging is kind of skewed," Hodge said. "Pretty much, if you're not the size of Sabino (High School) or Catalina Foothills (High School), you're not going to get a superior. And I don't want to go there and get a good and know that my kids are better than that." Both Sabino and Catalina Foothills typically have bands that consist of 150 members or more.

Instead, Hodge said the group will be participating in several local invitationals, the first of which is Oct. 12 at CDO. Since it will be the group's first competition, Hodge said it will be participating in the exhibition category, meaning it will not be scored, but it can still get feedback from the judges.

The band's other competitions will be in late October to mid-November, culminating with state competition on Nov. 16 at Mesa High School in Mesa.

Hodge said the band will also be hosting its own invitational in October, mostly for local bands.

"What it does for our kids is it allows them to be good citizens because they're hosting something," Hodge said. "You're showing people your campus and you want them to have a good first impression. You want to be able to show off where you live and where you come from. And it offers the community a chance to support you."

Herman said that while he is nervous about competition, he knows he has to set an example for the rest of the band because of his leadership role.

"I just want to do as best as I can in competition," Herman said. "If there are situations where there is nervousness, I might as well get over it myself rather than take the whole band with me."

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