It’s 3 p.m. on a rainy October day in one of Lawrence High School’s music rooms, where students have gathered in a semi-circle formation to listen to their teacher’s instructions.
“We’re going to kick off today with show planning,” says Antonio Padron, instrumental music director at the school.
“We’ve got chase scenes,” he continues. “The music creates the mood we are using to push the plot forward.”
With talk of scenes and plots, it may sound as if this is a rehearsal for a school play. But it is actually a meeting of the LHS marching band, a group of instrumentalists known as Red Scare who have adopted a non-traditional performance approach to entertain audiences at home football games.
Red Scare, named by social studies teacher Mark Rowe after the school’s red-colored cardinal mascot, is now performing their 11th season at LHS. The band was created in the 2001-2002 school year by Lee Neamand, then director of instrumental music. Neamand formed Red Scare as a small pep band made up of eight or nine musicians, and over the course of the past decade, the group has grown substantially. This season, the band boasts its largest lineup in history, featuring approximately 40 students.
Red Scare is billed in the school’s Activities & Clubs booklet as an “unmarching” band, due to the fact that its performances stray from the typical marching band style. In addition to playing traditional marches, Red Scare incorporates jazz arrangements of songs into the routines, and musicians often create sounds with items that were not intended for music-making, such as garbage cans.
“It was born out of the idea of doing marching bands differently and kind of taking a non-traditional route,” Padron said. “I come from a traditional background so it was a bit of a transition for me when I got here.”
Padron, who co-advises the band with Lawrence Intermediate School’s music teacher, Sharin Rello, has grown to embrace the uniqueness of Red Scare.
“As a music teacher, it’s refreshing, because it’s just different,” Padron said.
It’s not just their sound that makes Red Scare different from other marching bands. Their look is entirely unique, as well. They have swapped out traditional suited uniforms for red athletic pants and baseball jerseys.
Unlike other high school marching bands, Red Scare does not attend competitions; they perform strictly for the sake of entertaining.
“We don’t have the pressures of having to compete. We kind of just get to sit back, have fun and create,” Padron said.
No drill team or color guard dances with the group. Instead, the musicians themselves visually entertain audiences by performing a skit during their musical routine. Red Scare often incorporates costumes and dialogue into the skit, which runs for seven to 10 minutes.
This season’s routine features the theme songs from “Batman,” “Spiderman” and “Superman.” Red Scare begins the show by creating a skyline formation on the football field. One of the band members acts as a damsel in distress, lost inside a sea of musicians. As the students shift from formation to formation, the damsel finds herself trapped in a maze of bodies, unable to escape. Eventually, another student dressed as a superhero comes to her rescue.
“We like to have the storyline, to make it more interesting for the audience,” said Hannah Donoghue, a senior piccolo and flute player who is one of the band’s co-captains.
“You can be entertained even if you don’t know how a marching band works,” added sophomore Sara Weber, one of Red Scare’s clarinet players.
Another non-traditional aspect of Red Scare is that they adapt their routines from performance to performance.
“Marching bands traditionally meet in July at Band Camp, and they go over the music, and they go over the marching. They have a show put together by the first of September and that’s their only show,” said senior Jason Lewin, a baritone saxophone player and Red Scare’s other co-captain. “We change our show every week.”
While the bulk of the music remains consistent throughout the season, the band tweaks their skit and formations so that each audience is treated to a different show.
“They come up with little things here and there that get added from week to week,” Padron said. “It’s a very student driven activity. A lot of the ideas, concepts and motivations come from them.”
Red Scare rehearses after school three times per week during football season. Students begin rehearsals by breaking into small groups and discussing how they would like to see the show evolve for upcoming performances. The band reconvenes after about half an hour to present their ideas.
“Every section nominates two people to go up and share the ideas. We’ll make a storyline out of those raw ideas,” Lewin said.
“We’ll try to connect as many of the ideas as we possibly can to form the actual show,” Donoghue added.
The collaborative aspect of Red Scare is appealing to many of the students.
Jaquay Coates, a junior who plays alto saxophone in the band, remembers when he was in seventh grade and Red Scare invited students from his middle school to join the band for a performance.
“I went in there and everyone was pretty open,” he said.
When Coates saw how encouraging the students were when working with one another, he decided he wanted to join Red Scare as soon as he reached high school.
Lewin also looked forward to joining the band from a young age. When he was in fifth grade, he saw his older brother perform with Red Scare several times, and was intrigued.
“I saw him conducting people, and I said, ‘That’s the coolest thing ever,’” he said.
Though their style may stray from the traditional marching band mold, Red Scare members remain in sync with one another, collaborating on ideas and working together to entertain crowds.
“We really do become just a kind of family,” Donoghue said. “They are my best friends.”