The Falls Church High Scool marching band, long recognized as outstanding locally, last week was presented the prestigious Mayor's Trophy from the 1978 St. Petersburg, Fla., Festival of States.
The actual contest in which Falls Church emerged as the National Field Show Champion was held in April when 144 Falls Church High School musicians, 27 flag girls, 28 adult chaperones and 150 parents and friends spent nine days in Florida for the competition.
Last Thursday at a ceremony in which the band performed the winning seven-minute show for hometown supporters, Rep. Joseph L. Fisher read a congratulatory note from President Carter and Fairfax County Supervisor James Scott read a board proclamation calling the band "a unique talent."
When Falls Church High School Principal Dr. James Wilson declared. "The next goal is the Macy's Thanks-giving Day Parade," the crowd of 3,000 cheered enthusiastically.
During the St. Petersburg trip, band director Jim Stegner took along a teaching staff of 10, including professional musicians, music professors and student assistants.
The band members, flag bearers, chaperones, teaching staff and equipment filled three commercial airplanes. Total cost: $53,000, and "not a cent out of school funds," according to Stegner.
Falls Church competed against 11 other bands invited to participate by a group of 250 St. Petersburg businessmen, who provide $250,000 annually for the festival. More than 10,000 people paid $7 per ticket to see the field show competition.
For four deays prior to the festival competition in Florida, Stegner said his band "practiced for 10 hours a day; six hours outside on the field and four inside on music."
"We saw the beach maybe once," recalls drum major Keith Pruitt, a junjor. "But it was worth it."
While in Florida, the jazz band "played a bunch of 1940 tunes and the old people loved it," Stegner says, noting that 6,000 people watched the outdoor jazz show.
The Falls CHurch concert band also won first place, earning a right to play at the St. Petersburg Festival Coronation Ball that week. The marching band placed third in a street parade there.
But it was the field show that Falls Church went to Florida for, and Stegner says, "We won it on our music. Judges look for a full band sound, not a drum and bugle corps sound. The band that came in second (South Cobb High School from Georgia) had 268 kids and didn't sound as full as we did."
After their victory was announced, the band made the traditional march into the St. Petersbury Yacht Club, performed its show again and then enjoyed a reception in its behalf.
At Falls Church last week, the band received its enormous trophy form a delegation of businessmen from St. Petersburg.
The show, which Stegner says the band practiced a "good 30 hours" before going to Florida and which he estimates took him 60 hours to prepare, consisted of portions of Bach's "Little Fugue in G," Bach's "Fantasia," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" featuring the trombone section, Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee," and Shoshtakovitch's "Finale of the Fifth Symphony."
The first place finish in Florida avenged a second place finish there two years ago, and now Stegner says proudly, "There's not one festival competition we've entered that we haven't won." He cites the dedication of his students and their parents, who supported the band's $150,000 budget this year through sales, dance-a-thons and other activities, as the reasons for the band's success.
Stegner admits that some people complains Fall Church is strictly an all-marching program. In Florida, we won the concert competition, although, in fairness, those bands were not there because they were the nation's top concert bands. In our district (Potomac), our concert band got the highest rating this year.
"I believe the marching band filled the program. At one football game, 5,000 people see you in a concert. The marching band is where the band program's financial and moral support comes from."
For next year Stegner has accpted invitations to play in the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade, at two festivals in North Carolina, and he is working on a $60,000 trip to the Marching Bands of America Festival in Whitewater, Wis.