When the Bulloch Blues Marching Band performs Dec. 30 in the Florida Citrus Parade, it will be the culmination thus far, but not the end, of efforts to build a united band among the distinct personalities of the county’s three public high schools.
Not all 198 or so members of the combined Portal Middle High School, Southeast Bulloch High School and Statesboro High School bands, but 129 of them, are scheduled to board buses at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 28 bound for Orlando. They performed together previously in Statesboro’s Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Parade in October and the Savannah Veterans Day Parade in November, when the Bulloch Blues marched 192 strong.
Lately, with other events such as the schools’ Christmas concerts intervening, unified practices have been few. But the Bulloch Blues gathered for one last pre-trip rehearsal Monday evening at Statesboro High. Most of the student musicians were there for three hours; the drum line, for four.
“It’s actually amazing that we’re able to put this all together the way we are because we’ve only had about three or four rehearsals,” said John Strickland, 18, a senior at Southeast Bulloch High School, where he is drum major of The Swarm, the school’s marching band.
Quickly melding music and marching for three combined bands involves “trying things right off the bat that we’ve never done before,” Strickland said. But that, he added, is all in a season’s work for student band leaders, who enjoy “facing new challenges and accomplishing them.”
Some student musicians have needed to readapt to even out the sound of the Bulloch Blues. Portal Pride Marching Band sophomore Jacob Ferrell, 15, had switched from playing snare drum to cymbals before Monday’s rehearsal, but said he is comfortable with almost any percussion instrument and looks forward to spending time with friends during the Florida excursion.
The band is scheduled to arrive at the Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando on Dec. 28 in time for members to enjoy a look at the place and get in some marching practice. On Dec 29, the Bulloch Blues will march and play with units of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which spend the post-season at the Orlando Parks.
The main event, the Florida Citrus Parade, will move through 1.4 miles of Orlando streets beginning at 10 a.m. Dec. 30. It occurs between the dates of two collegiate football bowl games held in Orlando’s stadium.
“I’m definitely excited to represent the state of Georgia,” Strickland said.
Although not televised live, the Citrus Parade is internationally syndicated for TV broadcast at various times Dec. 31 - Jan. 3. WJCL-TV in Savannah is one of the stations that airs the recorded event, Citrus Parade officials said Friday, but they did not yet know the broadcast time.
Uniforms and music
Students will leave behind their individual schools’ uniforms for the Bulloch Blues’ special bluesy look.
Southeast Bulloch Swarm Director Matt Olsen and his wife Carie proposed the Bulloch Blues uniform, dressing students in dark pants, sunglasses, long-bill fedora hats and a blue and black bowling-style shirt with Bulloch Blues logos on the front and back.
“We wanted something that was a little different, that was inexpensive and that still looked pretty good,” Olsen said.
With similar goals, he has been dressing the Swarm in improvised costumes, specific to each season’s halftime show, for years.
Statesboro-based Lead Dog Productions designed the Bulloch Blues logos. A large outline of a saxophone appears on the shirt backs. A second logo, the letter “B” trailing piano keys, appears on the chest patches.
The chosen music also has a certain bluesy informality.
For the parades, the band is playing a group of arrangements that the band directors have given the working title, “Statesboro, Georgia, USA.” First, there’s a marching arrangement of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” followed by what Olsen calls “a cool, fun calypso version of ‘Georgia on My Mind.” Then “A Patriotic Salute!” arranged by Ralph Ford of snippets from several all-American tunes, concludes the brief cycle of music.
Another way that band members, plus parents and others in their booster groups, have worked together is in raising money for the Orlando trip and the future of the Bulloch Blues Marching Band.
The band’s page on the GoFundMe website stated an eventual need “in the vicinity of $40,000,” and a GoFundMe goal of $30,000. The unified band’s fundraising efforts haven’t yielded anywhere near those amounts.
But they have netted about $8,000, reported Statesboro Marching Blue Devils Director Lee Collins. As a result, the amount that each student had to put up for the trip was reduced from $570 to $520, he said, and some money has come in since the final reservations were made.
“We did not raise nearly as much as we wish we would have raised,” Collins said. “However … we were able to reduce the cost of the trip by $50 per student going. We are thankful for everyone that was able to help us raise funds for these students.”
Fundraising efforts ranged from a multi-location car wash in August, when students’ work raised about $1,200, to a Nov. 3 Parents and Friends Night where the bands played the music from their schools’ halftime shows, plus the Bulloch Blues arrangements. With donations and raffles, that event alone raised more than $1,600, Collins said.
Students sold Goo-Goo Express Wash cards, and some businesses became sponsors. A few also gave in-kind donations. Farmers & Merchants Bank provided the sunglasses, Collins said.
Just eight Portal Middle High School students are registered to make the Orlando trip, but that is half of the schools’ entire marching band. Portal Middle High School Bands Director John Gleissner said the school’s booster group stepped up to make the trip possible for every Portal student who made the commitment.
“Every child that can, that decided to join Bulloch Blues is going to be going on the trip, and they’re looking forward to it like crazy,” he said.
Tyler Middleton, 16, a Statesboro High sophomore who plays the mighty sousaphone, spoke as if he has learned something about the three bands and their directors. He compared the Bulloch Blues to the Drum and Bugle Corps International, where each corps brings its own style to the field.
“I feel like Statesboro, Portal and Bulloch can do that with each other,” Middleton said. “Statesboro can bring music, and SEB can bring that individuality and ingenuity, and Portal, Mr. Gleissner, he also brings forth some ingenuity and musicality. Each band has their own little area they can cover, and put them together, like, they complete each other.”
Each school band will maintain an independent identity and season. But signaling that the Bulloch Blues won’t be finished when the buses arrive home the evening of Dec. 30, the directors are ordering the band its own fedoras. For the Savannah parade and again for the Orlando trip, the Bulloch Blues has borrowed the hats from Lowndes County High School in Valdosta.
Increased cooperation among the bands has long been a goal for Olsen, longest serving of the three directors.
“This was kind of a dream of mine,” he said. “When I took the job 13 years ago there was a strange rivalry between Southeast and Statesboro, and for no reason because they were always in a different region, different classification, different everything, but there was this ugly rivalry and it was unneeded.”
But Olsen and former Statesboro High Band Director Joe Ferguson developed a better relationship between their bands, and Collins has carried that forward, Olsen said. The All Bulloch County Honor Band, launched last year, is also part of the effort.
“And here we are,” Olsen said. “We’re actually working the kids together and making them all better for it instead of just trying to make each school a little better.”
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.