“Where There Is Darkness…” Draws To A Close

~ A complete summary of the Pride of Piedmont’s 2022 Marching Season ~


Gwendolyn Griffin, Journalist

Have you ever seen six pillar-shaped props stationed near the stadium?  Some said they were lanterns; others said they were bird cages.  This year, they were candles!  These candle props were used in the Pride of Piedmont’s 2022 show, “Where There Is Darkness…”, illuminating every high school football field they touched.

If you live in close proximity to the school, you may have also heard the band practicing outside four days a week since late July.  Their music and props alone are quite impressive, yet the true magnetism of the show occurs when it is all put together on the field.  The process of producing the show, however, is much easier said than done and requires an extreme amount of time and effort.

Band director Jody Lukac said, “From beginning to end, it’s (the show) a twelve-month process.  The process of talking through different ideas starts in October (of the previous year).  Once the concept is picked, we look at music that helps fulfill that concept.  Then the writer starts writing, and, once we approve the wind score, then the percussion starts writing.  As the percussion and music is being written, we look at different options for the contribution of the guard and what we want them to look like.  Then the drill is done, and we start teaching it to students in the summer, but from brainstorm to the last show, it’s a twelve-month process.”

A major part of this process is the music.  The show’s music consists of “fear, despair, solitude, and joy, and they go from dark to light.  The opener is ‘Dies Irae’ from Giuseppe Verdi.  Movement two is Steven Reineke’s ‘The Witch and the Saint’, and the ballad is Eric Whitacre’s ‘Lux Aurumque’.  Movement four is Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, ‘Ode to Joy’,” said Lukac.

Another part of this extensive process is the band’s movement.  This is written out in drill sheets, which use one dot to represent each member of the band.  After the drill is written, the band works to define their marching technique in order to perfect how they move from one dot to another on the field.  Band members also learn ‘visuals’ during class and practice; this is the use of choreography to enhance the visual proponent of their show.

Lukac also hired a voice actor for the show to explain the emotions the band was expressing while also progressing the show.  To do this, Lukac created a script using public domain poems and used his own phrasing to “fill in the gaps.”  He then “submitted the voicing, and then had about 45 people across the country audition for me.”  Lukac picked the voice that best fit the concept of the band’s show.

Since there are so many members in the band, to delegate responsibility, Lukac puts trustworthy, veteran members in student leadership positions.  These positions include drum major, drum captain, guard captain, and section leader.  Lukac said, in order to become a student leader, “There’s two main categories.  One, they (candidates) have to go out and interview somebody in a leadership position… and create a philosophy of what leadership means to them.  Then, they bring that knowledge into an interview with me, and I discuss with them different scenarios and different things.  Based off their answers, I pick who I feel will be best.”

Assistant Drum Major and sophomore Abraham Pantoja said, “It was very exhilarating to get up on the podium and hear the band from a different point of view.  It’s honestly so amazing when you’re just there and embrace the moment.”

Senior Guard Captain Alyssa Pontias and senior Drum Captain Matthew Hodges said holding their leadership positions was “a lot of responsibility.”  Pantoja said, “my biggest responsibility is trying to make sure everyone fits in and tries to put in as much effort as everyone else because not everyone has self discipline… so another job that drum majors have to do… is help motivate them (the band) to do their work.”

Because these leadership positions are so diverse, each one of them had a different significant struggle that they had to combat.  Pantoja said his biggest struggle was the moments when “the respect wasn’t there for me when I asked the band to do something.  They think that since I’m their friend, they don’t have to listen as much, so respect was a little challenging.”  To handle that, “I (Pantoja) just raised my voice a little more… then it gets their attention.”

Pontias said her biggest challenge was the newness of the guard.  “During band camp, it was really hard having to spend hours on basics, but we ended up being able to do a lot of challenging work that Bryer (the guard instructor) gave us because of that.  So I think that helped us to really overcome that and be like… this is gonna pay off.”

To combat the struggle of having a rookie drumline, Hodges “had to have a lot of patience.  I am the only vet… trying to get them to match up with what I know is mainly a patience game.  They’re fully capable of everything I can do, it’s just you’ve got to be patient with them.”

For Lukac, the band’s most prominent struggle was “immaturity, not behavior wise, but age wise.  We are a very young band this year; we have more underclassmen than upperclassmen.  Because of that, that made our development slower than it was done in the past.  We got there; it just took a lot of time and patience and tears… to make it happen.  We will always be developing and growing.”

The band’s contest season started on Saturday, September 17, 2022 when they traveled to Marvin Ridge HS to preview their show.  They had a contest scheduled for October 1, but it was canceled due to the weather forecast of Hurricane Ian.  Their next competitions were a doubleheader on October 8 at North Gaston and East Lincoln.  The band won Grand Champion at North Gaston and Reserve Grand Champion at East Lincoln.  They performed again at Mooresville HS on October 15 and had their last contest at Union Pines HS on October 22.  The band’s final performance was at the last home football game on Friday, October 28 at half time.  The seniors were also recognized during pregame that evening.

The success of the band over the course of their season is measured differently by each individual member.  For Lukac, the band’s biggest accomplishments were “in forms of trophies, our first time in front of a judge, we won Grand Champion… and then we… were 0.8 from winning Grand Champion the second time.  From musicianship, I think the biggest accomplishment is when we notice the freshmen figuring out how to move, how to play… that’s when they become true musicians and true performers – when they can get the crowd excited about what they’re doing.”

Pantoja said his biggest achievement this season was the “very last competition, I nailed all the visuals, and I didn’t forget any, and I didn’t make any mistakes, which was very exhilarating… more practice, and thinking about it, and seeing and hearing where the visuals would be in the music helped me to accomplish my success and perfection in Union Pines.  We won first place drum major with the highest (score) of the day as a 96 (out of 100).”  This was the second time the drum majors scored first place of the entire day at a competition.  The first was at East Lincoln HS where they scored a 90.

Freshman and rookie marcher Cole Barker said “this year I can play a lot better than I could last year.  Since this is a lot more practice… I feel like I got a lot better at my music ability, and my marching ability, but I feel like my music ability has really gone up since 8th grade.”  After reaching for that goal all season, Barker was ecstatic to finally attain better musicianship.

Lukac believes the Pride of Piedmont’s previous performances of “Where There Is Darkness…” were stepping stones for his band, meaning both the band and their production developed greatly from those shows – and eventually the show became the award winning performance that it was by the end of the season.  Lukac said “I think the band overall has grown a ton… overall I am very pleased with how we have grown from week to week.”

In the end, we all can relate to “Where There Is Darkness…” as Lukac said “it’s a dark to light show, meaning the different ways that darkness can affect you from the worst possible things to the best possible things.  The opener is all about fear, and many people are afraid of the dark.  The next one is despair; it’s almost like you’re being chased… that kind of fear, like you’re at your ending point.  The third movement is not quite as dark.  It still has that dark feel, but it’s a much more peaceful feeling.  Darkness can also bring peace, like when you go to bed at night you’re very relaxed… and you’re calming down, so darkness can have that kind of emotion.  As light comes and darkness ends… the light brings the joy, so our movements went from dark to light.  They went from very intense to very joyful” just as in the emotions we feel in real life.

Everyone has their dark moments, but we can all find our hope in that sliver of light at the end of the tunnel.  “Where There Is Darkness…” is a reminder to keep fighting for that hope and to relish and take joy in even our darkest moments.  The Pride of Piedmont did a remarkable job conveying that message this season, and fans cannot wait to see what they have in store for us next year!