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On the practice field in front of Annapolis High School, the unmistakable commands of autumn resonate in the August heat.

"This is a drop-off. Start outbound. Work your way to the end. Line B, hit the ground. Line A, let's do it! Set up on the back line and it's eight steps per five yards."

Is this the Annapolis Fighting Panthers football team readying itself for another season on the gridiron?

Not quite. What we have here is conductor Michael Svec putting the Annapolis High School Marching Band through its paces on the fifth day of band camp.

With 66 wind players, 12 percussionists, two drum majors, a six-member color guard and 19 girls in the flag unit, Svec presides over 105 young people who will contribute the music, color and spirit to the school's athletic program and to community events as well.

From the rousing marches of John Phillip Sousa to Harold Hill's fast-talking tribute to the joy that only 76 trombones can bring, bands -- especially thosethat move -- have long occupied a special place in Americana.

Butthe band camp regimen makes it clear that the 10- or 12-minute halftime pageantry enjoyed by many doesn't come easy.

Getting 100 teen-agers in the right place at the right time musically, geographically and choreographically is no easy job. Said director Glenn Mohr of North County High School, "You put in a lot of work for your return."

The first order of business is mapping out the routines the band will use. "I enjoy making up my own shows," Mohr said.

"Some years the shows are thematic and other times you work to show off each of thedifferent sections of the band."

North County's primary show for this year will feature performances by the percussion section and thePom Dancers, while Annapolis, operating thematically, will present amelody from the Broadway hit "Annie."

Band directors are quick topoint out that they don't do it alone.

In fact, one is hard-pressed to find another school endeavor in which the student leadership role is so prominent. Drum majors, flag lieutenants, drum captains and the like play a significant role in the functioning of the ensemble.

Svec stated emphatically, "Once they hit the field, my drum major is in charge. I'm out of it. I can't do a thing. I'm gone."

Thus, the drum majors' role is anything but ceremonial. They conduct the shows. Their rhythmic, musical and communication skills along with an ability to get the best out of their colleagues are crucial to success. "They run the band," Svec said.

Last June, several aspirants auditioned for the drum major's job before the Annapolis band members. The post is elective, with Svec exercising veto power over the group decision.

A 17-year-old alto sax player named Dom Harris was elected by his peers and accepted by the director. He took the responsibility seriously, attending the Drum Major Academy at the University of Maryland this summer, where he studied leadership, marching, command and conducting skills.

"It was hard work," he reported. "There weretests and quizzes and I really had to be on my toes.

"The job is a lot more tiring than I thought it would be," Harris said. "You haveto deal with the band as a group. You also have to treat everyone the same way: the good ones and the not-so-good ones."

This Friday afternoon, Harris and his assistant, Jay Smith, are all over the field, cheerleading, correcting and admonishing their musicians. When Smith's watchful eye spots a line of flutists zigging where they should have been zagging, he immediately runs over and makes the necessary corrections.

Amy Bigelow, a no-nonsense senior, is another member ofthe command team. She serves as the drum captain, a sort of organizational and musical den mother to the band's largest subdivision, the percussion section. She conducts extra rehearsals for her section andmakes sure her 12 drummers are in sync.

"It's very important for the drums to sound clean," she explained. "The whole band can sound like mud if they're not."

While the players rehearse on the field, a group of flag-waving young women practices in the school cafeteria under the watchful eye of Sue Hersman, the "front" adviser who is readying her unit to perform the "Annie" medley with the band. The rustling flags punctuate, "It's a Hard-Knock Life" as Hersman explains their purpose.

"We're here to add color and help interpret what's being played. We're not a separate entity. We're a part of the band," she said.

YKeytta Jefferson, the 17-year-old flag lieutenant, said, "I really like the music and I enjoy the twirling. It really feels like show business."

Such enthusiasm helps explain why these students are working so hard when they might be lounging at the pool or cruising the mall in air-conditioned comfort.

"We become very close friends here," said senior Rachel Katz. "The games are fun. We cheer together and try to be really spirited. We enjoy the music and at the same time we become like a family. It's a lot of hard work, but it's alot of fun, too."

Echoed Svec, "It's such a kick to see somethingdevelop and have it materialize just like you hoped it would. Last season, we did an entire halftime show in a total downpour. The kids did a wonderful job under the impossible conditions, and afterward, you could hear them say 'Hey! We did it!' Its just a very positive thing."

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