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High school marching bands compete at Towson

Drums and xylophones were lined up along with buses in the parking lots of Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium on Saturday as high school marching bands from around the region gathered to show off what they had been practicing for months.

Students from nine states competed in Music for All's Bands of America Regional Championship. The Lassiter High School marching band from Marietta, Ga., won the competition and will participate in a national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the NFL Colts play.

The Bands of America event is "the top of the line" for high school bands, said Linda Brandt, president of the Westminster High School Instrumental Music Boosters.

"This is like the creme de la creme," she said from the stands as band members lined up on the field.

The Westminster students, who also are preparing to perform at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii in December, were the only group from Maryland at the event, which drew 27 bands.

"They've been practicing very hard," said Brandt, whose daughter, Amy, is a senior in the color guard. "They are very pumped up."

Music for All is an organization that seeks to promote "life-changing experiences" through music, particularly as arts education has become less of a priority at many schools. They also sponsor an orchestra festival and summer music camp.

"We want to make sure everybody realizes the importance of music education and keeping it in the schools," said Nancy Carlson, Music For All's chief financial officer.

At the stadium, teens were nervous before their performances and as they waited for their scores.

Alexandra Clark, a color guard member at Fairfax High School in Virginia, said she stayed up until 3 a.m. the night before, only to wake up at 5:45 a.m. to get ready for the trip to Towson. But she said she loves being a member of the band, which has taught her about teamwork.

"The band is one big happy family," she said.

Band teaches skills that will last a lifetime, including leadership, team-building and hard work, said Fairfax High School band director Alan Johnson.

After the competition, he applauded his band and said they did much better than the year before. But Johnson added that the performance was safe and could have showed more feeling.

"It lacked a little something that had to come from here," he said grabbing his chest.

"But you did a good job," he added. "Mission accomplished."

Some bands performed traditional sets, while others used creative props like chains and simulated fight scenes on the field. The bands were judged on music, visuals and overall performance. Two judges walked around the field as the bands performed, while five others critiqued from the press box above the stands. The judges were all collegiate and high school band directors and educators.

Alysia Bell, 16, and Carson Jenkins, 17, of the winning band from Lassiter High, had a 12-hour ride to get to the Baltimore area from their home state.

"Bands strive to get here," said Bell, a junior who plays the flute.

The girls, with white ribbons in their hair, said they and their bandmates had been practicing for months for the championship.

"You just really want all your hard work to come out," said Jenkins, a trumpet player.

They said they loved the atmosphere at the stadium, where the bands took center stage. At high school football games, Jenkins said, spectators usually let their attention wander during band performances.

Here, "everyone respects what you do," Jenkins said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea K. Walker contributed to this article.

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