NAUGATUCK — With a new director and increased enrollment that places it in a more competitive division, the Naugatuck High School marching band has hit the ground running.
Students now run laps each morning at the start of band camp, which lasted from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for eight days ending last Friday. They have been learning harder music and more complicated formations, preparing to compete against a higher scoring class of marching bands.
“At every aspect of the camp, they’ve really surpassed my expectations,” director Robert Hughes Jr. said.
Hughes, 25, is a borough native who graduated in 2004 from the high school where he now works. He has played the trumpet since he was in fourth grade and has a master’s degree in music education from the University of New Haven.
Hughes took over from former director Bob Kogut, who retired early this year after many absences due to illness, Principal Jan Saam said. Kogut had directed the school’s instrumental music program for eight years and worked in borough schools for 32 years.
Under Hughes, the band’s 65 members are learning a different style of show this year, Hughes said.
The music, from the Millennium Celebration fireworks show at Disney’s Epcot Center in Florida, is more rhythmically complicated and is a departure from more traditional themes such as show tunes or Western music, Hughes said.
Students said the tough but fun style of Hughes and his assistants led them to join the band this year.
Many were familiar with Hughes, who directed bands as a long-term substitute last year before he was hired in May.
“A lot of my friends were in it, and last year I felt like I missed out,” said trumpet player Kim Reynolds, who will be a sophomore.
Band veterans also said they liked the change.
“I really like how we’ve improved,” said tenor saxophone player Natalie Johnson, who joined the band last year as a freshman. “We can connect with them better because they’re so young. … We don’t feel intimidated.”
The band will take their show to five football games and eight competitions this season as a Class III band in the Musical Arts Conference. Classes are organized by the band’s size, but championship bands in the largest classes tend to score higher than those in smaller classes, Hughes said.
This year’s lineup has not been finalized, but Class III last year included Cheshire, Danbury and New Fairfield schools.
The borough’s marching band is famed locally for hosting Thunder in the Valley, a competition that raises at least half the money the band needs for transportation, uniforms and instruments.
Last year’s competition was canceled due to bad weather and lack of interest from other schools, but the event is set for Sept. 24 this year.
Jordan Jensen, 16, works to get a rifle twirl down during a recent practice of the Naugatuck High School Marching Band.