Samohi — When Mackenzie Moody first saw Santa Monica High’s new artificial turf field, the feeling was a mixture of joy and relief. 

“I was excited for the band to have something that was reliable to work on,” she said. 

Moody, a senior at Samohi is a drum major in the school marching band, which has been experiencing a stellar season.

The band came in first place in a field show tournament at Moorpark High School organized by the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association (SCSBOA) last weekend.

Additionally, Samohi is in second place in the rankings of bands of its size in Southern California, and will compete in the SCSBOA Championship on Dec. 3.

Samohi’s victory at Moorpark last weekend was the fifth tournament the band competed in this year, and the fifth time that the band came in first place, said Michael Corrigan, the director of bands at Samohi.

But when practice began in mid-August for the marching band, conditions looked less than ideal.

The practice field was undergoing renovations to replace the grass turf with artificial turf, and the initial completion date was the end of September, Corrigan said.

In the meantime, the marching band was practicing on the school’s baseball field to practice drills, formation movements, and the visual and kinetic aspects of a field show.

But by the end of September, the artificial turf field was still not completed, and the band was sharing the baseball field with the Samohi baseball, softball and football teams. 

The result was a practice field that was torn up, and lacked elements crucial to the band, like football field markings and yard lines.

“Those are the basic things that we use to help the kids guide for alignment so that the forms make sense for the audience,” Corrigan said. “But we made do.”

The band was able to come in first place at the first field show tournament on Oct. 1, based on its high music score.

That was all thanks to Corrigan’s experience as a band director, said Jessica Swift, assistant band director.

“That’s a testament to his teaching, because the music score was really holding them up until the visual edge came in there as well,” she said. 

But things took a turn for the worse when Corrigan had a minor stroke after the first tournament, said Swift. 

His condition was not critical, but Swift was tasked with commanding the band for two and a half weeks. 

“With all that happening in such a short span of time, it was really necessary that they put someone in that position, while Mike was ill, who already knew the ropes,” Swift said. 

Corrigan’s shoes were big shoes to fill, Swift said, but the band was able to continue. 

By the end of October, Corrigan was back, and the artificial turf field was finally completed. The band was able to increase its practice time, and its scores. 

“When we were able to get onto this turf, the scores the kids were getting went up dramatically,” Swift said. 

“It was great; it was like, now we can play the game,” Corrigan said.

The band will continue to drill and practice new formations in preparation for the championship, Corrigan said.

The band is second place in the overall SCSBOA tournament scoring, with a score of 242 points. Samohi is behind Azuza High School, with 254 points, and ahead of Riverside County’s Patriot High School, with 240 points.

Ultimately, just being in the championship is a great honor, Corrigan said.

“We were in the championships last year, and we placed seventh, so [we’re] much higher this year,” Corrigan said.

The band has lost some students since the previous year, and has moved from the larger sized 4A division, which has 90 to 120 musicians, to the 3A division, which has 60 to 90 musicians. 

However, the smaller number of kids represents the students who are willing to dedicate their time and energy to the band, said Swift. 

“The students really want it, and so that’s why they didn’t let obstacles get in the way,” she said. 

Many of the students have also taken leadership roles within the band, helping out newer students and finding time to practice together at lunch and outside of school, Swift said. 

“They’re an outstanding group of talent, and it’s a pleasure to work with them,” she said. 

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