The Burnet High School Esprit de Corps marched into the Alamodome in San Antonio last year to bring home a bronze in the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A marching competition. Members performed a routine they basically put together during the middle of that summer.
This year, the Esprit de Corps, which consists of the marching band and Highlandettes dance squad, aims to return to the state marching contest with a routine meant for last year’s season. The directors and students understand there’s no easy path back to the Alamodome.
“Getting back to state is never guaranteed,” said band director Drew Hicks. “It’s all in the hands of the five judges. We tell the kids, ‘You already know what to do, you just have to go do it.”
The Esprit de Corps kicks off its competitive marching season with the Bands of America Regional Championship on Saturday, Sept. 25, at Kelley Reeves Complex, 10211 W. Parmer Lane in Austin. The group performs at 9 a.m. Tickets are available online.
This year, the Esprit de Corps is performing the show “November Rain,” which was planned for the 2020 marching season but scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group instead put together a performance based on previous ones.
The move proved to be a winner as the Esprit de Corps performed it all the way to the UIL State Marching Contest in December 2020 and earned the bronze.
Typically, the UIL alternates the marching bands that can advance to state based on their district classification, which would make 2021 a non-state year for Burnet High School. However, the UIL is opening the state marching contest to all classifications this year, making it possible for a back-to-back state run for the Esprit de Corps.
Hicks and Highlandettes director Caity Clinton set high expectations for Esprit de Corps members, but they also painted a realistic picture of what it takes to make it to state. One of the things the directors stress is that students must maintain a high standard at practice.
“We preach they have to practice like they perform, every day,” Hicks added.
Ultimately, it’s the judges at the UIL regional and area competitions that determine which bands advance to the state marching contest Nov. 8-10. Yet, the Esprit de Corps leaders emphasize every practice is about putting in the work and focusing on the things they can control.
This year has its own challenges, Hicks noted.
Last year, the Esprit de Corps graduated a large group of seniors. This season, the group features a strong cadre of freshmen and sophomores. Despite being a young group, Hicks said they are working extremely hard and always looking for ways to improve.
The second challenge is COVID-19. Last year, students and staff always had a fear that the pandemic would shut down the school or the season, but that never happened. In fact, Hicks said the pandemic never seemed to affect the Esprit de Corps season through loss of members or staff.
This year, however, Hicks said they are feeling some impact as kids miss school due to positive COVID-19 tests or quarantining.
“But when they get back, they work to pick up what they missed,” he said. “The kids have just handled it all great. We’re so proud of their work, their attitude, and how well they listen and follow instructions.”
As with any show, the band and dance leaders bring the students along gradually. Hicks explained that the directors introduce pieces of the performance one by one, always giving the students time to learn it and then building on from there. The last thing they want to do is overwhelm the kids, he added.
Hicks said it’s great to see “November Rain” finally come to life on the field.
“Our parents and community should experience a show that just draws them in,” Hicks said. “There’s something interesting happening all the time on the field.”
During the Sept. 25 contest, which is not part of the UIL advancement process, the Esprit de Corps will perform two-thirds of the show. Hicks said that’s common at this point in the season, and most other bands will do the same.
On Saturday, Oct. 2, the Esprit de Corps competes in the Vista Ridge Marching Festival at John Gupton Stadium, 200 Gupton Way in Cedar Park.
The UIL contests begin Saturday, Oct. 16, when Burnet hosts the UIL Region 32 marching competition for 2A, 3A, and 4A schools. The 4A Area D marching contest is Saturday, Oct. 30, in Pflugerville.
“We’re excited to get the contest season underway,” Hicks said. “The kids know it’s not going to be easy to get back to state, but they know what it takes and they’re putting in the work.”