Tube City Community Media Inc. is seeking freelance writers to help cover city council, news and feature stories in McKeesport, Duquesne, White Oak and the neighboring communities. High school and college students seeking work experience are encouraged to apply; we are willing to work with students who need credit toward class assignments. Please send cover letter, resume, two writing samples and the name of a reference (an employer, supervisor, teacher, etc. -- not a relative) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ads start at $1 per day, minimum seven days.
Drum major Tina Wos conducts one of the movements from “All Up in the Air,” brass players sound off during band camp. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photos for Tube City Almanac)
If you go...
McKeesport Tiger Band Preview Show
Where: McKeesport Area High School Stadium, 1960 Eden Park Blvd.
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 17)
Tickets: Admission is free
There’s lots of excitement — not just in the air, but “All Up in the Air” — from staff and students involved in producing and performing McKeesport Area High School Tiger Marching Band’s 2023 show.
In addition to performing at football games and competitions, the group already was hard at work perfecting skills during band camp on Aug. 4 for an additional event this year.
That is the Bands of America competition on Oct. 7 in Toledo, Ohio, band director Drew DeCarlo confirmed.
“Bands of America is a really big deal,” DeCarlo said. “We will be competing with the top bands in the country. Bands of America boasts that it is life-changing experiences for students,” he said. “It is a memory from their high school years that they will never forget and will carry with them through their lifetime.”
Planning for the 2023 show began in early January as a staff effort, DeCarlo said.
Professional staff, observed working closely with their student musicians and color guard on minute details throughout band camp, are assistant band director Ryan Raible, who designs the drills; woodwind staff Mike Guzik, Joe Diamond, Mark Despotakis, and Gina Veltri; percussion staff Joe Scifo and Dr. Keith Parton; and color guard director Tori Palermo with color guard staff Mario James and Jania Wheeler.
“It all started with doing an ‘airport’ show, and we created an ‘All Up in the Air’ Show,” DeCarlo said. While not wanting to divulge too many details, he said it includes windsocks, airplanes, hot air balloons, bees, birds, butterflies, and a parachute.
In 2023, DeCarlo said, band shows are more like productions.
“The competitive marching bands are no longer ‘pick three songs and march and play.’ We will have nine large cloud backdrops, and costumes on marching band members for competition shows,” he added.
“I don’t want to give all the surprises away, but hopefully there will be a few ‘wow’ moments in the production,” DeCarlo said. “We are now trying to create various nature sounds and airplane sounds on non-traditional instruments.”
The band’s preview show, which is open to the public, is set for Thursday, Aug. 17, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Weigle-Schaeffer Memorial Stadium. DeCarlo said in addition to the local band supporters, he hopes some alumni who may be back in town during International Village will be curious and attend.
Student band and color guard leaders shared their thoughts as they wrapped up a week of camp, from what they thought when they first heard the theme to reactions now that they’ve experienced the music and movements.
Senior Tina Wos has a different perspective this year with her drum major responsibilities.
While she said she misses marching, Wos said she’s up for the challenge of conducting the group.
“You just never realize how complex this all is until you have to do it,” she said, gesturing to where she stands to conduct the band and displaying her notebook with 18 different instrument parts. “It’s more impactful now.”
She said during the reveal in the spring when the next season’s show was introduced, they showed a video with lots of clouds and the slogan “It’s Up in the Air.”
The drum major said she initially thought it meant like when things are up in the air, or undecided, “but this is very different from that!”
Percussion section drives the beat. Assistant band director Ryan Raible, center, shares input, corrections. New scoops, which help project sound, are installed on the clarinets. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photos for Tube City Almanac)
DeCarlo said “All Up in the Air” the show is divided into three movements, with music by three different composers.
The first is “Aviation,” composed by Jeremy Dross. Randall Standridge wrote “Nature,” the second movement, and J.R. Trimpe contributed “Up in the Air.”
Wos said she likes that when she conducts, she helps the whole band bring about the dynamics in each movement.
In the second song, for example, she said it starts out very slow, but then “comes into its own and just hits.”
Junior Cooper Kuchma is the second field conductor and continues to play tuba, an instrument he switched to his sophomore year.
“The second song, which is a ballad, is my favorite,” he said.
His biggest challenge this season, Kuchma said, is almost sprinting while keeping in step to get from one spot to another – and he’s not alone in having to accomplish that.
“Seeing how well we’ve come together to produce this show” Kuchma said has been his most satisfying part so far.
In addition to the music, band members and color guard have to pay close attention to the drills and choreography to bring the show to life.
During a recent day at band camp, small segments of the music and drill were practiced over and over, with DeCarlo and the other professionals taking time to correct or give input each time.
“Details, details,” DeCarlo reminded. “There was a natural build crescendo – it was meh,” while at another point he responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes! Good job!”
As was pointed out by staff and students, there’s almost more pressure to perform to perfection when you are a smaller group.
As an example, playing an incorrect note or taking a breath at the wrong time is way more noticeable than for bands with more than 100 members.
DeCarlo noticed an incorrect breathing technic at one point and the band repeated the section correctly.
“Breathing is definitely the most challenging for those playing bigger instruments,” said Michael Pfeffercorn, sophomore assistant low brass captain.
He said from the middle to the end of the second movement, the song just builds and builds to a nice, big brass sound.
Raible said once the concept was established and music selected, it was his job to create the perfect drill to showcase all three movements.
“I had to think of what we could do in the show to illustrate “All Up in the Air,” he said.
During the “Aviation” section, for example, airplanes are evident, including propeller motions.
Something new was added for the clarinets this year, which proved especially helpful during a duet in the second movement.
“Ja-Niya Wheaton and Antoine Smith auditioned and earned that duet,” DeCarlo said.
The addition is what’s called a scoop, explained Despotakis. “It goes over the bell and helps project the sound. They just got them last week and it makes a difference.”
Wheaton, a senior and woodwinds section captain, agreed the scoops “definitely help with volume.”
Sophomore Smith, the assistant woodwinds section captain, said his greatest personal challenge was mastering some 16th note runs, but as a group “it’s getting everyone to apply the corrections.”
Sophomore Kymari Neal said she can play trombone, but for marching band is one of two percussion leaders. “The need was greater for percussion,” she said.
“I like this show,” Neal said, noting this is her first year at band camp. “My favorite part is the second song. It’s very pretty, but also gets very intense at the end.”
Junior Deshea Davis plays mellophone and is the high brass section leader. He said his favorite part “is how much fun we’re able to have with this show.”
Lugi Ahmed plays tenor sax and is the saxophone section captain. The sophomore said there’s always a challenge, as the season progresses and the weather gets colder, to keep their instruments in tune while playing.
She said her favorite part of the music is in the first movement, but she also likes the third song “where there is a lot of slurring” for her part.
Ahmed said she’s looking forward to “most of the competition season, and hopefully winning at Bands of America.”
Palermo is in her third season with color guard, whose numbers have doubled in recent years.
“We have 13 this year,” she said. “These kids are catching on very quickly with this show. Flags are featured in the third song, which is very fast, different choreography.”
Flag section captain Sydney Campusano is a senior, but this is only her second year with color guard.
“My overall impression is I love this show,” she said. “I thought last year’s show (the band was named state champion in their division by Tournament of Bands) was amazing.
“I’m really looking forward to this season. I think great things are ahead,” Campusano predicted.
DeCarlo said back in March the band applied for the Bands of America competition in Columbus, Ohio, but it was full already. Toledo was the second closest one.
“We will perform in the prelims, and wait to see if we qualify for the finals,” the director said. “If we don’t qualify, I plan on letting the students see the top bands that made finals. I am so excited for them to be able to experience this! If we do qualify for finals, we will await our final performance time.”
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a freelance contributor. She can be reached at email@example.com.
McKeesport Tiger Marching Band 2023 Fall Schedule
Aug. 17 — Fall Preview Show 6:30 p.m. high school stadium
Aug. 25 — Home Football vs. West Mifflin
Sept. 1 — Home Football vs. Penn-Trafford
Sept. 8 — Away Football at Belle Vernon
Sept. 9 — Penn-Trafford Competition (Tournament of Bands)
Sept. 15 — Home Football vs. Laurel Highlands
Sept. 22 — Away Football at Trinity
Sept. 23 — Norwin Competition (PIMBA)
Sept. 29 — Home Football vs. Ringgold
Sept. 30 — Competition at Tyrone (TOB)
Oct. 7 — Competition at Bands Of America in Toledo, Ohio
Oct. 13 — Away Football at Gateway
Oct. 14 — McKeesport Home Show (TOB)
Oct. 20 — Home Football vs. Latrobe
Oct. 21 — Championships at Penn-Trafford (TOB)
Oct. 27 — Football Away Thomas Jefferson
Oct. 28 — PA State Championships Site TBA
Nov. 18 — Salute to Santa Parade, McKeesport
Originally published August 16, 2023.