On the outside the marching band is fancy uniforms, an array of instruments, great music, and intricate choreography.

On the inside, being in a marching band means hard work, long practices, and immense skill. Marching bands are more than students making music; they are a family, collaborating and bouncing their talents off each other, sharing their hearts through music.

The six marching bands of Cherokee County’s high schools are the prime examples of that greatness coming into play. But what does it actually mean to be a part of the marching band?

Cherokee High School Band Director Garrick Cheyne, a fourth-generation trombone player, enjoys the give-and-take of energy between the performers and crowd. He says that seeing his musical and visual ideas for a show transform into a creative presentation on the field is his favorite part of directing. He encourages his students to be the best versions of themselves. “Music is interdependent on each student and instrument,” he says, “so they must learn to work together as a team.” These learned skills will transcend into their adulthood. Garrick hopes his students see the value of hard work. He adds, “Although it doesn’t always pay off immediately and doesn’t always pay off in the way you expect it to, it always pays off.”

Josh Tyree, band director of River Ridge High School, says he enjoys cultivating relationships and making great music with wonderful people as he builds something amazing shoulder-to-shoulder with his students and their parents. “Their joy and enthusiasm are infectious. I strive to keep that fresh-eyed approach to teaching music and designing productions.” Josh hopes his students fully embrace the fact that failing is okay. He believes “we are all humans, and failure is part of the learning process. People who seek to hide failure are fragile. People who embrace failure as part of the learning process are the strength that moves the world.”

Etowah High School Band Director Stephen Long tells his goal: “To work with students to grow into contributing members of our society through the vehicle of music.” Stephen ensures that in addition to making music, his marching band members also focus on life skills and teamwork. He explains, “We are working to define our marching technique and move beyond the notes and routine to create a product that engages our audiences all season.” He says he hopes that his students can “be punctual, work hard, contribute to a team, lead others in a supportive way, and develop a system toward individual growth.”

Photo Credit: Jaye Grimes/Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

The Etowah Eagles marching band played a special summertime performance at Rose Creek Public Library.

Etowah also prioritizes mentorship and leadership opportunities, having hosted symposiums in the past for all Cherokee County schools. Stephen reports that his students have taught him, “Even though we want to be the best and have the best technique, [it should not be] at the expense of our enjoyment of this art.”

Creekview High School Band Director Stephen McCarthy urges his students to “establish and trust the process in which we build our show product.” Along with deepening bonds during practices and performances, he is grateful for the ability to provide a space and activity for kids to build friendships and skill sets. He adds, “Seeing students buy into the process of how we build a performance product is my biggest reward.” He hopes his students will “build memories that last for a lifetime and also be advocates for the activity as they get older.”

Photo Courtesy of Creekview High School Marching Band

The Creekview Marching Grizzlies (2022-2023 season) follow the mantra of “Energy. Effort. Excellence.”

In addition to training his students to be great musicians, Band Director Bob Loehr of Woodstock High School strives for his students to be the best versions of themselves while carrying those skills into all aspects of their lives. He shares, “I want them to learn to work hard and allow themselves to fail in the process.” For Bob the journey toward their successes during the year is just as rewarding, if not more so, than the result. Although playing in the band, he admits, “is not always a bed of roses and requires a lot of perseverance and grit,” he hopes his students can look back on their time with each other and smile, and he adds that his students remind him to “enjoy every day that you get to create music.”

Photo Courtesy of Woodstock High School Marching Band

The Woodstock Wolverines marching band performs beneath a stunning fall sunset.

Etowah High School Assistant Band Director Annissa Hackney enjoys watching her students’ love of music grow as she hopes to teach them the idea of making the world a better place, because as she says, music makes the world a better place.

Second-year Drum Major Lawson Brashear loves being able to help make band more enjoyable for his bandmates. He urges his peers to join any program they’re interested in, stating, “If you have any vision for what you want, tackle it. It means so much to the band program to go onto the field and hear such a roaring yell.”

Photo Credit: Jaye Grimes/Enjoy Cherokee Magazine

Etowah High School junior Grace Lancaster is a captain for the Varsity Colorguard team, which performs choreography alongside the band.

Etowah High School Guard Captain Grace Lancaster loves being able to help her peers and create a positive environment for everyone. Grace says, “I really enjoy it, and I also want other people to enjoy it. You get to make a lot of friends and work hard while having fun.”

Along with moving in time while playing and carrying instruments, overcoming mental and emotional barriers is a common hurdle for band students. River Ridge’s Josh Tyree explains, “To create truly amazing music you have to let down your emotional barriers and pour out your soul. This is hard for high school kids to do, because they are worried about being cool. Little do they know that the coolest people in the world put their hearts and souls into what they love and they just don’t care what other people think.”

Woodstock’s Bob Loehr states that his students allowing themselves to fail and not be perfect is important for the success of the band. Along with team building, effective communication and time management are skills that band students learn, practice, and apply to all areas of life.

Being a part of band guarantees mentorship, as the dedicated students work with their directors before, during, and after school, on breaks, and on weekends. These relationships last a lifetime, as students often keep in touch with their directors to express gratitude for the band skills they carried on after graduation.

Josh from River Ridge says, “Band kids are some of the smartest, highest-achieving students at each school. Marching band offers an opportunity for students to truly lead, fail, correct, and succeed in a real-world environment.” Some have continued to become musical educators or instructional staff in their director’s programs, while others have applied leadership skills in families, prestigious careers, and even as decorated officers in the service.

Cherokee County Marching Band Exhibition

For the ultimate marching band experience, football games and live concerts offer stellar entertainment. Every year, the schools take turns hosting the Cherokee County Marching Band Exhibition. This year’s Cherokee County School District Exhibition is on Monday, October 9, beginning at 5:00 p.m. on the Cherokee High School campus. Plans for a new school are underway, so the event will be the final exhibition held at the current Cherokee High School, which makes the October 9 exhibition a historical event to attend. It’s a prime opportunity to support Cherokee County’s marching bands and witness the schools’ and students’ support of each other as they celebrate the hard work and perseverance they display every day.



Marching Onward

Two Cherokee High School marching band alumni, who each continued as marching band members in college, look back at their favorite marching band memories in this Q&A session with Emma Tyler.

Baker Brown, Georgia Institute of Technology

Cherokee High School | Class of 2021

Q: How long have you been in marching band?
A: I’ve been playing for five years; four years were spent at Cherokee High School and one was spent at Georgia Tech.

Q: What instrument do you play?
A: I play the trumpet.

Q: How has marching band impacted your life?
A: Joining marching band turned out to be one of the most pivotal decisions of my life. I think it mainly helped me learn to be a more disciplined person, a tactical thinker, and a surprisingly good leader. It allowed me to drastically improve my musicianship skills as well.

Q: Are you planning on utilizing your musical talents beyond college?
A: I’ve recently been learning piano on my own for the past year, and I think someday I would like to be a part of a worship team for a church.

Q: What was your favorite memory of marching band in high school?
A: During the football season of my senior year at Cherokee High School in 2020, we beat Cartersville High School, who had been on a sixty-two-game winning streak. Our whole football team rushed over to the band at the end of the game as we triumphantly blasted “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled.

Jordan Wigner, Kennesaw State University

Cherokee High School | Class of 2022

Q: How long have you been in marching band?
A: I have been in marching band for six years. Four at Cherokee and two at Kennesaw State.

Q: What instrument do you play?
A: I play trombone.

Q: How has marching band impacted your life?
A: Marching band has given me a community to call home, and a family I would sacrifice for. The biggest impact it’s had on me is the differentiation in cultures. You see people who come from all over the world that love spending their evenings under football lights.

Q: Are you planning on utilizing your musical talents beyond college?
A: I don’t plan on playing trombone after college as much as I do now. However, I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll have one in my room to play occasionally.

Q: What was your favorite memory of marching band in high school?
A: My favorite memory has to be the times when we went to Waffle House after a win. Nothing can beat that 2:00 a.m. victory waffle.



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