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To take the Class IIA top prize at the national USBands competition on Nov. 2, EHHS Co-op band performed its field show 'In Ashes Ending' including this incredible 'flyover' flag effect. (Photo courtesy Matthew Laudano )
The 2019 National Championship EHHS Co-op Marching Band is made up of 51 performers including 42 EHHS students and nine North Branford High School students. (Photo courtesy Matthew Laudano )
EHHS Co-op Marching Band Color Guard Instructor Catherine Velazquez fabricated and painted this gigantic flyover flag for the performance, shown here as it was pulled over the entire band by the Color Guard as part of the band's field show 'In Ashes Ending' at the 2019 USBands National Competition in Allentown, PA. (Photo courtesy Matthew Laudano )
With their 2019 National Championship trophy and banner on display, seniors in the 2019 EHHS Co-op Marching Band celebrate. (Photo courtesy Matthew Laudano )
East Haven/North Branford High School Cooperative Takes Class IIA Title
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With a lava-hot performance, East Haven High School (EHHS) Co-op Marching Band claimed the Class IIA USBands National Championship Nov. 2 in Allentown PA. The title is a first for the co-op band under the nine-year leadership of Band Director Matt Laudano, who also took the band to its third consecutive New England state championship win this year.
Laudano said if any year had the potential for the EHHS co-op band to take the top prize at nationals, it was this one.
"There were a lot of really good bands there, but we've been on fire all season long," said Laudano.
The band's aptly-named 2019 field show, "In Ashes Ending," was taken from a quote from one of the songs the band performs, "Dies irae." The Latin title, which translates to "Day of Wrath," is the name of 13th-century hymn based on the apocalypse.
The marching band's show-stopping moment during the winning performance, Mt. Vesuvius erupting over Pompeii, is best described by Laudano.
"Towards the end of the show, we have a sort of explosion eruption sound effect, and our Color Guard has a 20-yard wide by 20-yard long flyover flag, painted to look like lava, that they pull over the band. And after it's passed, all of the band members are laying down on the ground as if they were overtaken by the lava," he said. "That was a really cool crowd favorite. At every show [this season], when we did that part of the show, the crowd went crazy."
Color Guard Instructor Catherine Velazquez fabricated and painted the gigantic flyover flag, said Laudano.
The judges at the USBands "A Class" National Championships in PA not only selected EHHS as the top Class II band among 11 competing on Nov. 2; but as the national contest's second-place winning band overall, among all classes of bands competing that day. Classes are based on the number of members in the band, running from smaller sized bands, Class I, up to largest, Class VI.
Laudano said winning second place overall at the national level was in line with the type of wins EHHS has been claiming all season long at USBands competitions across the state and region.
"We've always done very well competitively, but this season in particular, we've not only been winning our Class II, but at almost every competition we've gone to this year, we've been the highest scoring band out of all classes," said Laudano. "At nationals, there were probably 45 bands, with all the different classes. We obviously won Class II -- but there was only one other band, that was in Class VI, that outscored us. Every other band, we beat. So out of all those bands, only one other band scored higher than us -- and has triple the members we do. So that's exciting."
Laudano is understandably proud of the co-op band's 51 members, which includes 42 EHHS students and nine members from North Branford High School (NBHS).
"This is a team in the truest sense of the word," said Laudano. "There's no second string; there's no back-up. So every kid out there on the field has to perform at the same level, and they have to give 100 percent. Regardless of whether they're a freshman or a senior, we expect the same level from everybody."
Laudano established the band's cooperative program in 2015, working with his wife and NBHS Band Director Katie Trainer, who is the co-op band's Woodwinds Instructor. Laudano thanks all of the band's instructors – a total of 11, including Laudano -- for making this year a national title year.
"Some of our staff specialize in percussion, some in color guard or drill or marching; and they're all a big part of what goes into the success of the band," he said. "They are the people who help make these kids so amazing. For myself and the marching band staff, it's just a been a great experience for all of us. These kids are like a little family to us. We're a tight, close-knit group, so we work well together."
He also has high praise for the band's parent support group, affectionally known as "The Pit Crew."
"They do everything from moving equipment on and off the field, to loading the trailer, cooking lunch and preparing food for the kids before competitions," Laudano said. "They do so much to take the burden off of me, and allow me to just focus on being the band director and helping the kids, which is great."
The 2019 National Championship EHHS Co-op Marching Band will make its last performance in April 2020, when the band pays a scheduled visit to march in Disneyworld in Florida.
"We take this trip every four years, and it just happens to be that this year is going to be even more special, because of the success we've had," said Laudano.
The towering USBands Class IIA National Championship trophy – all 14 feet of it -- is on display now in the EHHS main office lobby. The band also brought home a national championship banner for the school to display.
During his tenure, Laudano has brought the band to the nationals three times; including earning a third-place showing during his first year at the helm in 2010. Before that, he was a percussion instructor for the band.
"My first year I took over, the band was really good -- they had a lot of really good seniors. And it was a nice, easy transition because I had been working with band for so many years as the percussion instructor that I knew all of the students," said Laudano. "That year we won the state championship and came in third place at nationals. But this is the first year that we have won nationals since I've taken over."
The EHHS alumnus (Class of 2002) also brought a bit of history to his leadership role.
"I was actually a student in the band at East Haven High School when the marching band first started and first formed; and I was a part of the band for the first national championship the band ever won, in 2001, when I was a senior in high school," said Laudano. "So I've gotten to see it from both sides, and it's pretty cool to see the tradition of excellence that started almost 20 years ago has continued since then."
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