Putting the pep in the pep band

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Sheri Hand leads the Troy High School pep band during a home basketball game in February. (Ben Kibbey/The Western News)

The Troy High School pep band gained a lot of attention from crowds and coaches this year, with frequent comments from around the community that the band sounded better than it had in years.

It’s a lot of work to get to that point, said Band Director Sheri Hand. But the payoff is a willingness to participate and increased interest from students.

Troy sophomore Alaiyah Rodgers plays trumpet in the band, among several other instruments on her own time. A transplant from Texas, Rodgers said that she immediately noticed the more relaxed atmosphere in Hand’s music room.

“She’s a lot more lenient and laid back, but in a good way,” Rodgers said.

While they still practice and work hard, Hand is open to input from the students, even letting them pick some of their own music -- within reason.

Hand said she always makes sure music is appropriate, and that she is limited to a library of available songs.

Rodgers also commented on how much time Hand spends working with the students individually when they request it, or the sections as she sees the need. But Hand is also interested in the feedback the students offer.

Since not the entire band can be there for every game -- some members may even be playing in the game -- the size of the band from one night to the next can vary significantly, as well as the composition.

Hand said that she does sometimes have to adjust which songs they play based on the available instruments.

Senior Tristyn Winebark has been in pep band all four years, though a class conflict kept her from participating in concert band her sophomore year.

Still, Hand worked with Winebark, allowing her to still be a part of the pep band.

Though her sport of choice -- softball -- has no pep band, Winebark said she has felt the difference it can make for an athlete when the crowd is energized and cheering on the team.

On top of just enjoying playing with her friends in band, she said she enjoys being part of motivating the crowd.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize it until the pep band’s not there, but we actually do a lot to pep up the crowd and fill any silences, I think,” she said. “I think pep band’s really important to sports games.”

Junior Jacob Volkenand, Jr. said that he enjoys pep band, though his preference is concert band and the competitions.

There is a constant cycle each year as the band loses seniors and gains new players, but Volkenand said he feels the pep band has been getting progressively better over time.

Volkenand said he enjoys the feeling when the whole band comes together on a song they all know well.

And the best is when the crowd isn’t just energized, but joins in, he said. If anything, he would like to have people clap and sing along more.

Hand estimated the time it takes from picking out a song to having the band ready to play it is about a week. About four days of that time is just the band rehearsing and practicing.

Yet, Rodgers said that there is also a difference between simply being able to get all the notes in the right order and actually playing a song well.

“I know for me, personally, it’s taken two years to learn some of the parts that we have, to actually know them and know what I’m doing,” she said. “There’s definitely a difference between just playing it and feeling it.”

In her seventh year at Troy, Hand said that she has noticed an increased enthusiasm for the pep band and more compliments from the community.

Winebark said that she remembers only a couple years ago there being just about a dozen members in pep band.

On a high-participation night this year, Hand said they have had around 20 playing.

“Now that there’s this many people, it sounds a lot better,” Winebark said. “It’s hard to make a band sound good when it’s not loud.”

But Winebark said that she thinks people still may not realize all the work that goes into making the pep band sound good.

“It’s not easy getting everything set up and working on all the songs,” she said.

They may be able to learn a song in a matter of days, but those are full days, playing a song over-and-over until they are almost sick of it, even if it’s a song they like, she said.

But the band members agreed that the hard work is worth it.

And there’s an additional social benefit to being in pep band as well, Rodgers said.

“It definitely helps a lot of people open up,” she said.

Just being out in front of a crowd and performing seems to being people out of their shells and make them more comfortable expressing themselves, she said.

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