The Thomson High School band isn't lacking in experienced leaders as it starts its 2011 marching band campaign this week.
Tenth year director Jesse Morlan presided over an early start for the band's auxiliary members -- the student leaders, percussionists, flag team, baton team and dance team -- Monday morning at the high school. All of the rookies were expected to join them Wednesday before the full band is assembled next Monday.
Morlan spent some time on the football field teaching basic marching movements to the wind players of his leadership group, while several other groups worked separately under the supervision of experienced staff from Thomson and the University of Georgia.
"These first two weeks ... it's where we learn most of the show, most of the fundamentals," said Morlan, who was assisted by brass coach Matt Shelton, middle school band director Trent Henderson, and staff members Emme Himes and Becky Morlan. "It's the most 1-on-1 that we'll have with these students."
Practices start at 7:30 a.m. and run until 3:30 p.m., or noon on the first two days with rookies this week. Morlan said he sent out invitations to some 250 students, although the actual number that comes out will be significantly smaller because of sports and other obligations.
The pounding of the drums wasn't the only music audible Monday, as the stereo blared while the Thomson dance team worked under the instruction of Kelsey Grusczynski, a member of the University of Georgia dance team. Nearby, Thomson graduate and former UGA flag corps member Niaya Burnley worked on some basic moves with the flag corps, while UGA Redcoat marching band majorette Taylor Brown led a group of twirlers.
But the crown jewel of the staff is one of Morlan's first and best students, Chris Crenshaw. Morlan made sure his leadership group paid close attention as they sat down to listen to the 2001 Thomson graduate, who just got back from a two-month tour with world-renowned jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, which included stops in the U.S., Canada, France, Italy and Spain.
"I don't think of myself as a celebrity," said Crenshaw, who plays the trombone and is happy to help the band whenever his busy schedule allows it. "I just look at myself as someone who loves what they're doing."
Crenshaw learned under the tutelage of Morlan from seventh grade all the way through high school, and the director said "it's a treat" whenever his former student is able to make an appearance. During his time at Thomson, Crenshaw's many honors included co-captain of the band, brass captain and student arranger.
Crenshaw said this year's show, Piano Man, will feature an assortment of Billy Joel classics accompanied by a powerful marching routine. Although the band will put on a performance for the football team's home opener on Friday, Sept. 23, the full show won't be ready until the band's first competition, which is set for Oct. 8 at Burke County High School in Waynesboro.
Morlan and his two drum majors, junior Ty Cummings and senior Ethan Dowler, stressed the importance of not just competing well, but enjoying the whole experience and learning a lot along the way. Morlan praised his experienced staff for being able to provide not just the knowledge vital to a strong performance, but also the quality role models that will help his students succeed in on the field and beyond.
"I thought last year's group was just a wonderful group and one of the best we've had," Morlan said of the 2010 band that qualified for the Georgia Series Finals. "It just gets better every year."