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'The Swarm' manufactures a season of triumphs
SEBs compact band outscores larger rivals
110311 SEB SWARM 04
The Swarm's trumpet section moves frenetically on the field as they perform their show at last Friday's football game at Southeast Bulloch High. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

      Watch The Swarm's performance at the East Georgia Marching Band Festival Saturday at Statesboro High:

       In competition after competition, the Southeast Bulloch High Swarm, the Brooklet-based marching band that fields 62 members in factory work clothes, has outscored spit-and-polish bands with twice as many marchers just in their horn sections.
       Between playing Friday nights at every Yellow Jackets football game and marching in one Monday parade, the Swarm spent four Saturdays in October drilling and building through the band festival competition season around southeast Georgia.
       The band will cap the season Saturday with the Georgia Marching Band Series Finals at Jeff Davis High School in Hazlehurst.
       First, Southeast Bulloch's hard-working teens took Best in Class AA and made overall first-runner-up in two consecutive meets: the Burke County Bear Invitational in Waynesboro, Oct. 8, and the Grovetown Warrior Invitational, Oct. 15. Next, they captured the Grand Champion trophy Oct. 22 at the Jeff Davis Invitational Marching Band Competition.
       Yet the biggest thrill waited for an event last Saturday in the Swarm's home county. When the Statesboro High School band hosted the 35th Annual East Georgia Marching Band Festival & Championships, Southeast was one of 11 schools in competition rounds.
       An exhibition performance by the host band and one festival-only entry meant that a total of 13 bands played before the day was out.
       At that point, a best-in-class win by the Swarm over the other two Class AA bands present could hardly have surprised anyone. But the roster also included the bands from Houston County High and Greenbrier High, both listed as Class AAAAA, based on the number of musicians in their horn sections.
       When Southeast Bulloch High was announced as the overall winner with a score of 96.83, Swarm members erupted in joy and surprise.
       Some hugged, teary-eyed, and spun each other's feet off the ground. Others jumped, waved and yelled, "Yeah!" in response to the avalanche of cheers.
       "We were not expecting this at all, in any way, shape or form," said Drum Major Kassie Ormsby, 18, an SEB senior. "We're just like, getting ready for them to say ‘Houston County.' They had a really good show, and we were really excited for them. And then they said ‘Southeast Bulloch,' and we're just like, ‘Well, what do we do now?'"

The Show

       In her role as chief executive of "The Factory," the band's 2011 show, Ormsby wears a businesslike navy blue vest and pants ensemble with a lighter blue oxford shirt and a bright yellow tie to capture the school colors. It contrasts with the blue Dickeys brand coveralls worn by most of the band. Members of the percussion section wear yellow hardhats, while other instrumentalists pair their coveralls with blue work caps embroidered with a curvy "S" logo representing the Swarm.
       To stand out, the six to eight members of the dance line wear cargo pants in different colors, white T-shirts painted with hard-earned smears, and bandanas.
       This approach to attire - more show costume than band uniform - is nothing new for the Swarm. The wide yellow belts worn with the blue coveralls were salvaged from the martial arts outfits used in the band's 2010 "Kung Fu" show. The hardhats first appeared in a construction-themed show about five years ago.
       Other shows, since Swarm Director Matt Olsen introduced the approach six seasons ago, have featured improvised police uniforms, hospital scrubs and Caribbean casual wear.
       All the other bands Saturday wore formal band uniforms, some with plumed helmets.
       But the Swarm's workday outfits fit the music and the moves of "The Factory." The show packs music by seven different artists - and sound effects such as the whir of an air wrench - into less than nine minutes. Tunes include Lee Dorsey's "Working in the Coal Mine" and Pink Floyd's "Money" but also Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger," Nine-Inch Nails' "The Hand that Feeds," and Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart."
       "It's a lot of popular stuff," said Band Capt. Jimmy Howell, 17 and also a senior. "Everything you hear when we play has been on the radio at one point or another, so it really helps us with the crowd that everybody knows the tunes we're playing."
       Meanwhile, the Swarm is in constant motion. Often, the horn players form single-file formations that loop and cross themselves, but at intervals they break into small diamond formations and seem to dance more than march.
       When the musicians do form a full marching rectangle, the dancers, like a cleanup crew rushing to a spill, dash and tumble through their lines. One moment that got cheers is when a human "robot" breaks down and has to be musically repaired.
       The full band performance from the Statesboro competition along with a Studio Statesboro segment is available to view on and Swarm supporters posted a video of Saturday's performance on YouTube.

The Team

       Interviewed before the show, student leaders were not predicting a win. They've been taught that the goal is to entertain the crowd, not to collect trophies.
       "Whether we win or whether we're the last out of however many bands are here, we want the audience with us. We want to entertain them, because we're a marching band and we entertain," said Matt Upchurch, 17, a senior and woodwinds captain.
       That lesson is part of the tradition cultivated by Olsen and what you might call his coaching staff.
       "Last year I graduated a lot of really good players, and I figured this year would be kind of a rebuilding year, and they've proved me wrong," Olsen said before he left the field house to prep band members.
       Helping Olsen coach the Swarm are his wife, Carie, and SEB Middle School Band Director Joey Mitchell. The Olsens, now 36, met as teenage musicians for the Magic Drum and Bugle Corps, an affiliate of the pro-level Drum and Bugle Corps International.
       Matt Olsen and Mitchell, 34, were roommates at Troy University, where they both earned bachelor's degrees in music education, and Mitchell also a master's in conducting. Instead of buying a packaged musical program, they select and arrange the music and craft the marching drill and other elements of the show themselves.
       Although paid to work with summer band camp, Carie Olsen is otherwise not a school employee. Helping as a volunteer through marching season, she takes charge of physical elements of how students present themselves, leading calisthenics and working with them on their posture and footwork. About a month ago, a new dance instructor, Sunni Holland, joined as the fourth staff member.

The Family

       Matt Olsen, now in his ninth year at the high school, and Mitchell, in his sixth at the middle school where he teaches about 130 band students, have led the program to increasing success. Parents and alumni have responded with devotion.
       The Band Boosters have their own nickname, the Big Yellow Monster, as they wear special yellow shirts and fill a swath of the bleachers. Here, "booster" means something more than a donor of money.
       "We're creative sometimes out of necessity because we don't have a huge budget," said Boosters President Charles Howell. He and wife Angela are the parents of the band captain.
       Howell noted that the drum major's parents, Gail and Stanley Ormsby, built the portable backdrops for "The Factory," painted with gear and pulley designs. While waiting for the Swarm to perform and cheering for all the other bands - as the SEB Boosters make a point of doing - Howell also pointed out that 10 or more former band members were present, along with a few dozen parents.
       In fact, the Howells came to the band competition after attending the wedding that day of two Southeast Bulloch graduates and former band members, their daughter Sara and groom Shawn Berry. Before the Swarm played, not only the bride's parents but the bride and groom had appeared at the stadium.
       "Mr. Olsen and Mr. Mitchell built a sense of family," Charles Howell said. "Just because someone graduates, the band experience is not over."
       The Swarm is scheduled to perform at 7:20 p.m. Saturday in Hazlehurst, and a live webcast is planned through the Georgia Marching Band Series site.

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