When asked to describe the Barrington High School Pep Band here’s what Danny Loignon offered: “We show up at sports games and rock the world.”
The senior plays alto sax for the ensemble he joined five years ago, as an eighth-grader. This year, Danny’s one of about 20 students who regularly play with the group, which has a steady stream of gigs at high school football and basketball games, among other contests.
Some of the members are a lot like Danny.
They’ve been with the pep band for years and by day, play with the school’s more traditional ensembles. Other musicians are more like Tim Gamache, a sophomore electric bass player. He’s relatively new to the group and though he has a rock band outside of school, he doesn’t take music class during the week.
The combination of musicians like Tim and Danny is one reason the high school pep band is far from typical. Another factor is the freedom given to group musicians for improvisation and song selection.
Many of the band’s musicians are also performing on their second instrument.
Nahum Mitnik is the pep band’s director and co-department head for the high school music program. Mr. Mitnik said in his 12 years leading the pep band the line-up has fluctuated and accordingly, so have the selections.
What was once a set list of traditional pep band fight songs has transformed in recent years as the group moved from wind to electric. Trumpets and saxophones are still a part of the group, but they now play alongside a trio of electric guitars, a pair of electric bass players, a keyboardist and a drummer.
It’s a line-up that results in a set list of pep band staples like “Wild Thing” and “YMCA” sandwiched between rock n’ roll like Edgar Winter and Cream. It’s a setup that has led the high school football PA announcer to name the group the Electric Eagles, though that’s an unofficial moniker.
When the boys’ cross country team was introduced at the homecoming pep rally, the pep band played Black Sabbath’s Iron Man. When the girls volleyball team entered the gym, they got Jimi Hendrix’s Foxey Lady.
“We have our own style,” Danny said. “We play it the way we want to.”
These tunes might be the music of their parents, but Mr. Mitnik said pep band members are the driving voice behind the group’s selections. Sometimes it’s bringing a particular song to rehearsal while other times it’s introducing a riff to jam on.
“It has to be something where they feel that they’re bringing music they want to play or else it doesn’t work,” Mr. Mitnik said.
The group rehearses once a week though who’s in attendance can vary based on what else is scheduled. Mr. Mitnik said the pep band musicians, like numerous Barrington High School students, are involved in a number of other activities and clubs.
Kasey Cardin is a junior. She’s played clarinet in the pep band but it’s tough to hear her over everything else so Kasey recently made the jump to cowbell. It’s a big part of a “Low Rider” and generates no shortage of “need more cowbell” jokes.
“We’re like a family,” Kasey said of the pep band. “We’re really close. We have a fun time together … We have a lot of people on a second instrument. It’s really nice to see that other talent and listen to them.”
Eric Olson, a senior, plays guitar for the pep band and trumpet for concert band. His favorite pep band song is Ozzy Osborne’s “Crazy Train” and he said the improv format gives him freedom concert performance doesn’t.
“You can’t play something unless you truly understand it and enjoy it,” said Charley Winner, who plays both trumpet and guitar for the pep band.
One key aspect of the group’s rehearsals is the ability to start and stop abruptly. There’s more time between quarters then during a time-out and the group works to make sure it can adapt to whatever period is available. Mr. Mitnik keeps a whiteboard with a pair of upcoming tunes and spends a lot of time each game watching referees for the start whistle.
“I conduct backwards a lot,” Mr. Mitnik said.
The BHS pep band will play again on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m., when the football team hosts Bishop Hendricken.