Tyler residents may have noticed something a little strange on their morning commutes over the past few weeks — several hundred students in the parking lot of Robert E. Lee High School running formation drills at the crack of dawn.

That’s because marching band season starts well before the school year begins.

Giving up the opportunity to sleep late for the last month of summer vacation doesn’t bother these musicians at all.

Head drum major Micah Leary said it’s one of her favorite times of the year. Going into her senior year, she now helps lead the routines.

“I would not (want to) be doing anything else,” she said. “I look forward to it every year.”

For Leary, the season started even earlier as she and fellow drum majors and section heads learned leadership skills earlier this summer.

“I’ve learned a lot of management and people skills,” she said. “You can’t talk to everyone the same. It also taught me that you are going to make mistakes and you have to just keep moving.”

She said the biggest skill incoming freshmen will learn is time management. Already they’re practicing with the rest of the marching band, even though they haven’t technically started high school yet.

“They’ll have to learn to juggle stuff. It really makes you accountable,” she said. “Band is not not going to happen and your quiz (the next day) is not not going to happen, either.”

Director of Bands Sam Labordus said managing 200 students plus prospective members is a privilege.

“This is their band program, I’m just lucky enough to be part of it,” Labordus said.

Labordus said the band members in leadership positions take on big roles and help shape the program each year. He instills in them a sense of ownership, reminding them that someday he’ll retire or they’ll graduate and the band will still be here.

As part of their present and the school’s legacy, he wants leaders to model character for their peers.

“We feel strongly about teaching character and respect through music,” he said. “The kids aren’t out here because they have to be. They choose to.”

Getting incoming freshmen excited about the program starts in middle school. Labordus spends his free periods visiting the feeder schools in Lee’s attendance zone and getting to know future marching band members.

“That way they already know me and what I’m about, and they trust me,” he said.

Practices have to start early because the band will take to the field during the first week of school and also has its annual March-A-Thon fundraiser set for just four days after classes start.

The March-A-Thon, which will be Saturday, Aug. 24, will see the students parading through neighborhoods playing mini concerts for residents in the area.

School starts back for Tyler ISD on Monday, Aug. 19.

Cory is a multimedia journalist and member of the Education Writers Association, Criminal Justice Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. He has appeared on Crime Watch Daily and Grave Mysteries on Investigation Discovery.

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