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The Witch, the Saint and the marching band

Two Washington High School students arranged and composed the music for their 2018 marching show

GTNS photo by Gretchen Teske

Meghan Newman, left stands beside John Flannery, right. The pair arranged and composed the music for the 2018 marching show, “The Witch and the Saint.”
GTNS photo by Gretchen Teske Meghan Newman, left stands beside John Flannery, right. The pair arranged and composed the music for the 2018 marching show, “The Witch and the Saint.”

Most high school students spend their spring breaks going on vacation, hanging out with friends or avoiding schoolwork. Senior Meghan Newman and junior John Flannery are not most high school students.

Newman spent her spring break arranging the music for the 2018 marching show, “The Witch and the Saint.” She said the concert band played the piece in the spring and she could not get the music out of her head. So, she decided to try something she’d never done before: arrange a piece for the marching band.

She talked to her fellow band mate, John Flannery, and he agreed to compose the music and create the drum feature. Together the pair spent their week working on the piece so that at the end of their vacation, they had a small portion they could show to their band director, Don Hughes.

Newman said the only time she was nervous during the whole process was when she had to show the piece to Hughes. She stood nervously as he listened to the three minutes she worked on so diligently. When the time was up, he looked at her, nodded, and said, “I guess that’s our marching show next year.”

Hughes said he was surprised to hear the arrangement but also proud of the initiative his students took. Newman and Flannery arranged and composed a seven-and-a-half minute long show for 100 band members, no small feat for high-schoolers.

“That’s never really come up before and I’m hoping that will set a precedent and we’ll have more interested kids do it,” he said.

Hughes has been with Washington High School for 19 years and Newman and Flannery are the first students that he knows of to arrange and compose a piece for the marching band.

“I’m very proud of what they’ve done, it’s a huge accomplishment,” he said. “The initiative is a lot of it. The fact that they want to do this, they want to make this project happen is wonderful.”

Newman said she then spent the rest of her summer arranging the piece to fit the marching style. Because the music was originally written for an orchestra, it had parts for instruments like oboes, which marching bands do not have. Instead, she had to figure out a way to transpose the music so the clarinet section could play it instead.

“It’s so tedious because I had to follow along and follow every single note,” she said.

Flannery helped with the arranging, despite this being his first time as well. Even before Newman began arranging, he began composing because he thought the music could be turned into a marching show. Newman approached him about her idea to create the marching show and they joined forces immediately.

“The entire process was just us doing something for fun and then it turned incredibly serious,” he said.

To compose the music, Flannery had to take the original work and flush out the parts that were too difficult to play while marching and rewrite them to fit the difficulty level the band could handle.

He said he was not nervous at all to hear the band play the piece because to him, it was just another piece of music.

Newman agreed and said her lack of nerves stemmed from her trust and confidence in the band that they could pull it off with ease.

“It helps so much that they were so passionate, we gave them the music and they were the ones who accomplished it,” he said.

“In the end, they were the ones who made the show,” Newman agreed. “We really didn’t do it, we just helped.”