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Norton band lines up Fiesta Bowl gig

By John Published: December 21, 2010
Danielle Stoffer, 18, plays the vibraphone during band rehearsal for the Norton High School Marching Band. The band is preparing to march in the Fiesta Bowl Parade on New Year's Day in Arizona. (Paul Tople / Akron Beacon Journal)

By Marilyn Miller
Beacon Journal staff writer

Norton's high school marching band has earned a place in the New Year's Eve Fiesta Bowl Parade and a spot in the Band Championship in Phoenix.

Norton is one of 13 bands in the United States invited to the events.

There are 108 band members out of a student body of 925.

''The band is an important part of school and the city of Norton,'' said principal Ron Gerstenmaier, who will go with the group as a chaperone. ''They have worked hard for it. They put in a lot of practice time.''

The Norton band is nationally ranked, with seven Class A championships and five state superior ratings.

Tom Chiera, the music/band director for the last four years, said he wanted the band to have the experience of performing at a bowl and started searching for one last year.

''We do a small trip every two years and were due for a big trip. I wanted the marching band to do it because that's the feature we do well,'' he said. ''The Fiesta Bowl came with high recommendations.''

Thanks to a YouTube video, Fiesta Bowl officials

were able to see the band in action and Chiera received a response within 24 hours after he applied.

The parade will not be televised nationally.

Norton's band is noted for ending its performance with a star emblem formation, which has been likened to the Ohio State band's signature maneuver dotting of ''i'' in Ohio.

The band will play the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky in the contest show. For the parade, the band will have more of a patriotic theme with the Trooper Salute and Men of Ohio march by Ohio composer Henry Fillmore.

Norton's marching band traditionally has two drum majors. This year they are Lindsay Runninger, 16, a junior, and Devyn Renninger, 17, a senior.

They had to audition for the job. And both play the flute.

''The drum majors run the show. It is under their leadership,'' Chiera said. ''I just help them prepare. It is 100 percent student-driven.''

Dressed in formal wear, Devyn has the center podium, while Lindsay moves around so she is always facing the band.

Both knew in ninth grade that they wanted the drum major role after seeing the confidence displayed in the faces of their predecessors.

''Everyone trusted them,'' Devyn said.

And confidence is key.

Devyn said her most confident moment was last year's performance at a state contest, when she could feel the adrenalin rush.

''The energy was there. We put everything in it,'' she said. ''We knew we had done our best, and we knew we had earned the superior rating before I got off the podium.''

It was the first time in the school's history that a band has received a superior rating at a state contest for four straight years.

Lindsay, who plays a solo in the band competition, comes from a family of musicians. Her mother and father were in band and met in band in college. Her mother plays the flute and her father, the trumpet. She has siblings who play percussion, the trombone and trumpet.

Devyn, who will graduate this school year, wants to continue her band experience by finding a college that has a band. She hopes to become a music teacher.

Both are excited about the Phoenix trip and are counting down the days before they leave in a chartered plane from Cleveland.

Most of the band members have never been on an airplane.

All of their instruments will be loaded on a semi and driven out to Phoenix by two band dads, Don Williams and Jeff Price.

The band had to raise $150,000 for the students to make the trip.

''They have gotten so much support from the community and Norton Music Boosters,'' Chiera said. ''The boosters held fundraisers throughout the year.''

The girls said they are more concerned about their performance in the parade than on the field. They have never marched that far. The parade will be a nearly two-mile hike.

''It's a family,'' Lindsay said of the band. ''We are together all the time. We are like one big happy family, except that it's a true statement this time.''

Chiera said it's true it is a tightknit group.

''It's not always easy to deal with so many personalities at such a young age, resolve conflicts without blowing things out of proportion and know how to motivate band members as well as yourself,'' Chiera said.

''It's a lot easier when you are surrounded by people who want to be here and want to get better and keep pushing themselves.''

Chiera said the band will also have some fun while in Phoenix.

''This will be an action-packed trip. I want them to see as much as they can for the money. They will be busy from sunup to sundown.''

The trip includes a visit to the Grand Canyon.

''This is the third trip I have gone with this band,'' Gerstenmaier said. ''These are the best kids in 35 years I've ever worked with. I am proud to be anywhere with them. They make you proud to say they are yours.''

Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or



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