Northgate High band's movable concert
By Lou Fancher
A neighborhood near Northgate High School is a world of wonders one special September morning every year.
On that day -- this year on Sept. 12 -- it's possible to hear a fleet of flutes at 10 a.m. on Castle Rock Road, or witness teenagers twirling rifles on Arbolado Drive playing "Free Ride" or "Soul Bossa Nova" or the Monday night "NFL on Fox" theme song.
Ramping it up to full volume three hours after the Northgate High School Marching Band begins its annual March-A-Thon, the "Northgate Fight Song" and drum major Natalie Jenkins lead the way to a pizza party for the players at Arbolado Park.
The musical marathon is a primary fundraiser for the 60-student band of brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments.
"It's a bit of a snaking route from the school to the park," says 2015 March-A-Thon coordinator Randy Wanser. "At Foothill Middle School they can set down their tubas and mill around for a rest break, but it's a long couple of miles. They march from nine to noon."
A week ahead of the event, parent and student volunteers distribute donation envelopes throughout the neighborhood. Cheerleaders and other students go door-to-door to pick up donations during the parade.
"They literally pass the hat," Wanser says.
The hat is a shako, the tall military-style cap often adorned with a plume and common to marching bands. The financial support that's collected is aimed at keeping the award-winning program not just upright, but climbing. The tax-deductible donations (also accepted at www.northgatehs-pfc.com/donateall.html) allow the program to purchase and maintain instruments.
"There's also heavy emphasis on performing, not just classroom music," Wanser says. "Proceeds support participation in competitions and festivals."
The instrumental program led by Greg Brown, and the marching band and auxiliary under the direction of Sara Stafford consistently win top honors. Northgate's Jazz Band I has for two consecutive years (2014 and 2015) captured the top prize at Monterey's Next Generation Jazz Festival competition. According to the instrumental program's webpage, 39 students last year won individual awards in festivals and honor bands.
"We're grateful for the district's support," Wanser says, "but to maintain the success we've had, it takes more. Boosters fills the gap."
But even with the parent's Boosters group, there's one thing Wanser says it nearly impossible to acquire.
"I can't tell you the playlist for the parade, believe me, I've asked. It's like it's top secret."
Perhaps one reason the information remains a mystery until the day of the parade is Jenkins.
"Each song has a hand motion to cue the band for what I'm in the mood for. I'm like the DJ," she says.
It's almost true. The 17-year-old who plays saxophone, clarinet and flute in Jazz Band I, Wind Ensemble and Marching Band, determines the order and selection of approximately 20 songs the band has in its repertoire. But she hardly depends on mood, leaning more on practice and planning.
"Being drum major is a great opportunity to be a leader. In class, I work with each section. I'll go to the trumpets to make it sound march-like. Or I'll get the flutes to sound dance-like."
Jenkins practices to make sure her conducting movements are crisp.
"I stand in the backyard and prop my phone up so I can record, then watch myself conduct. My motions have to be definitive. It may look like I'm just waving my arms, but my arms show the music's style and set the tempo. I practice my spinning and turns so I can devote my energy to the band in rehearsals."
During the parade, people watch from their front yards and driveways -- some even stroll along to the end of their street. Jenkins says that like the competitions throughout the season, the March-A-Thon is a great reward arriving at the end of summer band camp, and nine, eight-hour days of practice.
Neighbors simply marvel, because how often are the streets filled with the sound of Sousa? One special day every year.