Growing NHS band takes home state title

Naugatuck High School band director Robert Hughes conducts practice at the school this week. -STEVE BIGHAM/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Just seven years ago the Naugatuck High School marching band numbered less than 60 members. Today that number stands at 108, an unprecedented growth spurt that culminated earlier this month with a state championship.

The Naugatuck High marching band took home the Class 5 state championship Nov. 10 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was the highlight of a successful competitive season for a group that is now competing and prevailing at the highest level ever competed at by Naugatuck.

“This is the biggest the band has been, so it’s kind of shocking. We were a small band when I first came here as a freshman and we’ve grown so much,” said senior Sarah Morain, the band’s drum major.

Those around the program say the success is the result of hard work and talent. But just as important, they say, is the atmosphere around this tight-knit group.

“There’s such a family aspect to it. We all get along well. We’re not here just because we play instruments or spin a flag. We’re here as friends. The bond here is crazy,” Morain said.

Senior Ben Meleschnig, the band’s low brass sergeant, remembers when Naugatuck didn’t always perform at state championship levels. It was hard, he admitted, but he and his band mates never gave up and pushed harder.

“It just feels really good to be a part of when we all kind of got it together and started raising the bar,” Meleschnig said.

Band members credit much of the growth and success to band director Robert Hughes, who last year was named Naugatuck Teacher of the Year.

“It’s been amazing to watch the program grow consistently over the years. It takes a lot of work on behalf of students, the staff and myself to help a lot of the different elements come together,” Hughes said.

The marching band’s program for this year’s competitive season was entitled “Grow,” with the music it performed following the growth of a plant from seed to flower with all the stormy and sunny days in between. It’s a theme that seems to personify what has been going on in the music department here. And that growth was evident in what was a banner year with many milestones, all while competing for the first time ever in Class 5.

So, what has been the key to the nearly 100 percent growth and the success that has come with it? Hughes said it is hard to say.

“I really don’t have a good answer. I feel like if I did I could write a book because all bands want to get bigger,” he said.

The band director thinks it may be a culmination effect, a lot of little things that have come together to create an environment where students want to participate. One of the additions has been the band’s “world tour” where it visits all the schools in the district, demonstrating instruments and performing for the younger students.

“It’s starting to pay off tenfold,” Hughes said. “It gives students an opportunity to see and hear what marching band is all about, what the fine arts and performing arts is all about, and it gives our program some exposure.”

The success is sweet music for Hughes, who grew up in Naugatuck and was a member of the school’s marching band some 15 years ago. It was an experience that lead him to take on music as a profession.

“I feel fortunate that the marching band was very strong here when I was in high school,” Hughes said. “Like a lot of things in life, it tends to be an ebb and flow. I feel really happy to be in a position to help restore the program to its heyday.”