MANATEE -- Although Braden River High School is closed this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, more than a dozen students gathered Tuesday in the band room with teacher, Kendall Carrier.
The room was filled with drums, a white board with musical bars drawn on it and wind instrument cases, along with three prominent trophies.
The Braden River Marching Band of Pirates is celebrating Saturday's win at the Florida Marching Band Championships Finals at Tropicana Field.
Braden River competed against 16 schools in Class 3A at the semifinals. It was one of five schools selected from its division to compete at the finals Saturday evening where the band was crowned 3A champions. The band reached the finals three years in a row and have been champions two consecutive years.
Students also took home personal medals.
"I have come full circle," saxophone section leader Zach Smith said with a smile. "I never thought I would be a section leader when I was just a freshman getting yelled at by my own section leader."
Lakewood Ranch High School competed in the 4A category and also made it into the finals, but did not take home a trophy.
The marching band is made up of 97 students. The number of wind members determines what class the band competes in. For Braden River, that is 48 members.
Carrier said bands are scored on music, performance and effect and visual performance and effect.
Braden River's competition piece was called "Art."
"Music inspires art, and art inspires music," Carrier said. "That was the sub-caption of the performance."
Students displayed classic pieces "American Gothic," "Mona Lisa," "Starry Night,"
"Scream" and "Snap the Whip." They changed the music to match the mood of each painting.
Braden River used a mixture of jazz, pop, classical and contemporary concert music in the competition.
Carrier said he had the idea for the theme of the competition piece but bringing the concept to life was a group effort.
"The color guard director and the visual coordinator write the drills to tell the story visually," Carrier said. "My job is to tell the story musically."
Ricardo Robinson is director of color guard, and music theater teacher Aaron Stone is visual director.
Senior Jade Fukunaka is one of the three captains for color guard, which adds to the band visually with flags, rifles and sabers.
For "Art," Fukunaka said the color guard spun giant paint brushes and pushed oversized paint buckets out onto the field.
"We were the painters and we were the ones making the Mona Lisa and Starry Night," Fukunaka said.
Braden River High School has been working to perfect its marching since July.
The band competed in four different competitions, including the Florida Band Masters at Manatee High School.
Carrier said the high schools support each other, and Braden River and Lakewood Ranch cheered each other on at the competition Saturday.
Braden River High students said the competition was not without its hiccups. One bus overheated and was the last to arrive at Tropicana Field.
Clarinet player Brianna Harber said she was not sure the band would make it to the finals.
"At the semifinals, we did not have the best run," Harber said. ""Then we heard us being called for best visuals and best music. It made us all understand why we work so hard."
Smith said marching in sync with instruments can be awkward and difficult at first, especially with a group of 97 people, but later it becomes second nature.
The band masters the music first in rehearsals, then begins marching rehearsals separately. Clarinet player Maddie Labrecque said by the third week, the band begins to bring their music on the move.
Carrier said marching band is physically demanding. Students have been practicing from 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays since August, plus at football games Fridays.
Although the band is nearly 100 members strong, the students said it has become more like a tight-knit family.
Memories they share include bus rides to competitions and laughing when someone fell with an instrument.
Harber said she never pictured herself becoming a part of marching band.
"I used to make fun of band," Harber said. "I thought 'I'm not going to be a band geek!' But since I started, I have just wanted to get better."
Emily Gartenbert, a senior and band captain, said she is sad marching band at Braden River is officially over for her.
"The bands get called to attention, and we are not supposed to show emotion," Gartenbert said. "But I could see the look on everyone's faces, and they all looked so happy. You could tell everyone felt accomplished."
When asked who would continue with band after high school, hands shot up all around the room.
"Most people here want to continue music one way or another," said Nathan Coleman, a baritone player.
Parents also said it is bittersweet the marching band is over for the year.
Parents aided from keeping track of uniforms, running concessions and even little things such as making sure each member had black socks and gloves.
"We were there for the ups and downs, the tears and the joy," said Carrie Morris, mother of snare player John Haas. "It was overwhelming, but I look at these kids as my own."
Band booster parent Donna Cove said she does not know what to do with her Friday nights now that band is over.
"A big part of success is having support so the band directors can teach," Cove said. "They do not have to worry about having everything ready and can spend time creating the show and making it into the wonderful production that it ended up being."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.