By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

Saturday will be an emotional day for many seniors in area marching bands, as the top high school programs will compete at the Contest of Champions at Middle Tennessee State University.

From Rutherford County, Riverdale, Oakland and Siegel high schools will compete in the prestigious competition.

“Contest of Champions is like our state championship,” Riverdale senior Jeremy Wright said. “You have to be invited. All the bands there are high caliber.”

Wright — a saxophone player and woodwinds captain — hadn’t originally planned to do anything with music or band. But after his sisters did it, he decided to give it a try. Now after four years with the Riverdale band, it’s his community.

“I love the people. I do it for them,” Wright said.

For the bands competing in the Contest of Champions, it’s a really big deal, said Rutherford County Schools Fine Arts Coordinator Lindsay Halford.

“Contest of Champions is the longest continuously running marching band competition in the United States,” Halford said, adding this year will mark the 55th year.

> CHECK OUT PHOTOS OF ALL THREE BANDS HERE <

Oakland Band Director Ty Jessup said they prepare for the event all season.

“The Contest of Champions is our final contest each year. Each contest we attend throughout the year is in preparation for our (Contest of Champions) performance at MTSU,” Jessup said. “It is often a special and emotional day for our students, especially our seniors.”

For Oakland’s show, the title is “Cosa Nostra” which means “our thing,” Jessup explained.  The band has used that motto throughout the season as a reminder they are working together for one common goal, to do their best.  The show itself depicts a day in the life of a secret agent.

“These students have worked tremendously hard this year spending hours each week in rehearsal, Friday night football games and Saturday contests,” Jessup said. “Saturdays can easily be a 15-hour day for most band students.  All of this time and effort while maintaining high academic standards is a testament to the students’ hard work and dedication. And we certainly could not do any of this without the support of our administration, faculty and our wonderful band parents  who spend countless hours volunteering their time for this program.”

Siegel High School will enter the competition fresh off a huge win from last weekend’s Music City Invitational, where the band was awarded “Grand Champions.” MCI is not a state title, but it is one of the longest running and most respected contests around, Halford said.

The Siegel band has spent nearly every evening this week preparing for Saturday’s event.

“This week’s set of rehearsals is all about finding and correcting as many inconsistencies in our show execution as we possibly can,” Assistant Band Director Alex Sears said. “We had a fantastic set of rehearsals following fall break and leading up to the Music City Invitational last weekend. We are looking to build on that momentum from last week as we push towards the Contest of Champions.”

Siegel’s show theme this year is “1,001 Nights – the Stories of Scheherazade.” The production tells the legend of Scheherazade, the famous storyteller of the Arabian Nights, as she tells her fascinating tales to a sultan in an effort to soften his broken heart and save her own life, Sears said.

Riverdale has also held multiple rehearsals this week. Its show is titled, “Do Not Go Gentle,” based upon the Dylan Thomas poem of the same name.

“Our show, like the poem, deals with issues that make great teaching points for our students: to never give up, perseverance in-spite of adverse circumstance, accepting and dealing with loss, and to ‘rage against the dying of the light,'” Riverdale Band Director Mike Aymett said. “It’s an emotional show with lots of content and uses music from the movies ‘Edward Scissorhands’ and ‘Signs.'”

And while Saturday’s competition will be the final one for seniors, other band students are just as eager to perform.

“This is actually my first championship. We have a good (drum) line. It’s fresh but we all work well together,” Riverdale sophomore Ryan Gilbert said.

Gilbert, who plays snare, has played drums for six years but didn’t join the band until he saw them perform last year.

“Now that I’m a part of it, it’s everything I hoped it would be,” Gilbert said.

The 55th Contest of Champions will be held at MTSU on Saturday, Oct. 22, with the first performance beginning at 10:15 a.m. Oakland is scheduled to perform at 1:30 p.m., Siegel at 4:15 p.m. and Riverdale at 4:30 p.m. The full schedule can be viewed HERE.