TARPON SPRINGS — Everything stops for the flute that flits through a sweet and innocent melody. Snow White brings the poisoned apple to her lips. She falls, collapsing in the heap of her fairy-tale dress in the middle of a football field.
The drums swell. It's a moment of "pure intensity," and the flautist, 16-year-old Sheridan Markham, is reveling in every bit of it.
That Snow White-inspired show, Poisoned, gave the Tarpon Springs High School Outdoor Performance Ensemble a fourth-place overall finish nationally at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis. The marching band also came in first in its division, which is for bands from schools with 601 to 1,225 students.
But there's something else just beginning for Tarpon High's avant-garde marching band. It's time to prepare for the band's appearance at next year's iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
"There will be a lot of adrenaline, and it's going to be really cold," said Sheridan, a high school junior and flute section leader. "But in front of all those people, in the end, it's just going to be awesome."
Band director Kevin Ford will conceptualize a new show for the minute-and-a-half of television air time the band will have. He flies to New York on Wednesday to preview this year's Macy's parade talent.
Expect the Tarpon High band to bring a different kind of performance to the parade, he said — something creative and innovative, within all the rules and regulations.
"It'll have its own identity," Ford said.
The band will also ramp up its fundraising efforts so all 170 students in the marching band can go on the weeklong trip. It's a greater challenge than raising money for weekend trips to championships in places such as Indianapolis and Atlanta, with hiked prices over the holiday week in New York.
"There's no band in the country that can get into Macy's (parade) without the community," Ford said.
Students are already selling poinsettias and soon, Christmas trees.
They plan to hold a benefit concert and a road race while also looking for local sponsors. They might give up their regular spring trip, when they usually travel to big-city concert halls.
The goal: $400,000. So far, Ford says they've banked $50,000.
The Thanksgiving trip next year will likely include a visit to Broadway to see a play and attend a backstage workshop.
"That changes kids," he said. "That inspires kids to be better."
It gives them a chance, he says, to ask professional musicians and artists how they worked to get where they are now. He estimates 20 to 25 percent of Tarpon High's arts magnet students pursue careers in the arts.
But for all students, even those who don't continue in the arts, the magnet program is designed to first teach leadership skills. The students recite a motto, TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More.
When it comes to life after the marching band, senior Jenna Hochberg doesn't know yet if she'll continue performing in a color guard when she goes to college. But her four years in the Tarpon High band could still help her conquer environmental studies or design.
This year, she led the color guard as captain, heading a team of 50 dancers and flag twirlers and saber bearers who are the storytellers of the band's show.
"I had to step back and think of it not as, like, oh my goodness, I have 50 people to take care of, and I'm one," said Jenna, 18, "but that I have 50 more people that can help me."
Since she's a senior, she won't get to perform in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade next fall. But she credits her graduating class with helping the band position itself for the honor. She'll have to settle for a spot in the crowd — Poisoned was her last show.
At the end of it, the entire marching band gathered together as they always do to review the performance. The energy had been there. They all did the best they could.
The director reminded the students of the start of this year's marching season during the summer: Look how far you've come.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.