Anne Schwarzwalder and Elizabeth Eber are not typical high school freshmen.
Before their first day at Wilde Lake High in Columbia, both befriended several upperclassmen and knew everyone in at least one of their classes. The secret to their social success? Wilde Lake's marching band, which met for band camp last month.
"We're coming in with friends," said Eber. "Already having a class where I knew everybody really helped" in adjusting to high school.
The heart of the Wilde Lake High School marching band is veteran music educator Lewis Dutrow, who has been band director for 28 years.
Dutrow "has phenomenal energy," said Principal Restia Whitaker. "He's like the Energizer Bunny - ready to go - and that enthusiasm spills out to the kids."
The band's first performance of the season is Friday night, when the Wilde Lake football team plays host to Glenelg.
Whitaker said the halftime program is "a lot of the precision marching and the showmanship ... the kids are very passionate about."
Dutrow auditions eighth-grade musicians from Wilde Lake's feeder schools every January. If the players make it into the wind ensemble, they also must commit to the marching band. "Only the really, truly outstanding" kids get into marching band, Dutrow said. There are fewer than 10 freshmen this year.
Schwarzwalder, 13, and Eber, 14, are oboists. Because oboe isn't a marching band instrument, the freshmen were recruited to learn xylophone and bells. They arrived at school Aug. 8 for a three-day drum-line camp.
Drum major Steven Rockwood, 16, a senior, said the percussionists rehearse before the rest of the musicians: "That way they can lead the band."
The rest of the group - about 70 musicians - began two weeks of training Aug. 13. Since school resumed, the musicians have been practicing daily during band class. Only the flag squad rehearses after school.
On Thursday, Rockwood started band class by blowing the whistle he wears on his neck, calling for the musicians' attention. The group headed out the back door.
By this time, the music and routines are memorized. While Rockwood conducted the band's rehearsal, Dutrow fine-tuned their performance in preparation for Friday night.
Just like football players, the musicians play in all kinds of weather. Rather than complain about performing in the rain, for most band members, getting wet is a highlight of their season.
"They love to play in the rain," Dutrow said. "We call them the Wilde Lake Mud Cat marching band."
To protect their military-style uniforms, he allows the teens to play the halftime show in regular clothes if it is raining.
"We do the whole show just as we would do it if they had their uniforms on," he said. " ... They'll go out there with their boots on or their bare feet, and it's just a lot of fun.
"The crowd loves it, too, because they're out there [in the rain], and they're playing like crazy."
The band does more than just entertain at football games. It plays at new-student orientation and back-to-school night. During pep rallies, the marching band takes over the building's large main hall, nicknamed Main Street.
Whitaker said the school is three stories high, and "the center of the school is open. ... We can accommodate our student body and our band and surround them by the students" along Main Street and in the balconies.
"It's wild," Rockwood said. "You go out there, and there's a thousand people in this school. Everybody is yelling and screaming. ... It's hard not to be excited about being a part of Wilde Lake."
Parent Dan McGrain is president of the Band Booster Club. His daughter Rachel, a junior, is the band's lead trumpet player.
He said band is "one of the only classes they get to take in high school where they're together for all four years. ... For a lot of these kids, it's sort of their home base in the school."
Rockwood said that he appreciates how compassionate Dutrow is with students. "He's really been a big part of growing up for a lot of kids."
McGrain said Dutrow has a close relationship with students because he works with them year to year. "It's more than just musical instruction," he said. " ... They can come to him and talk about other things. It's a community inside the school."