NORMAN PARK -- Valdosta High School's Marchin' Cats return home tonight after four days of intense drills and rehearsals at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center. The 120-member marching band traveled to the small Colquitt County town Friday for what Director Paul Guilbeau called Band Camp.

"This is when we bust 'fanny' and work really hard," Guilbeau said. "Of course, we also have a lot of fun. This is like our final 'hoorah' before school starts Wednesday."

Saturday morning, the group gathered on a make-shift football field at the rear of the center for a full-band rehearsal, each student mastering his or her steps for the approximately 8-minute half-time show.

After noon, the group split into sectionals and practiced their music before a second full-band rehearsal later that evening.

"This is pretty intense," Guilbeau said. "They have to be really focused."

"This is one of the sharpest groups I have ever had," Guilbeau continued. "Their work ethic, demeanor, and attitude are amazing."

Guilbeau said during the average halftime show, each marching band member's brain will process in excess of 14,000 to 15,000 items -- recalling musical notes, show formations, and steps taken to get there. This is in addition to what the body is doing physically, he said.

"All most people know is that the end result is," Guilbeau said. "They never see what it takes to get there."

This year's Marchin' Cats halftime is a tribute to New York City and titled "Live From New York City." Guilbeau said the group will perform a number of songs, including "Birdland" and "Boy From New York City." The show, which will feature a number of unique percussion effects, will close with "New York, New York."

Guilbeau said the theme is in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the marching band's upcoming St. Patrick's Day parade performance in the big apple.

"We really have a lot of things going on this year," Guilbeau said. "We have a contest in early October, although I am not sure which one we will go to yet. Plus, we are hosting the Southern Open again."

Add that to the local parades, a possible performance with the Valdosta Symphony Orchestra, and after-school rehearsals and the Marchin' Cats' schedule is pretty full.

However, Guilbeau is focused, for the time being, on preparing for their first half-time performance Aug. 30.

"My goal is for the kids to have fun and enjoy themselves while in band," Guilbeau said. "I am very proud of what they have accomplished so far. If we keep up this pace, things will be exciting."

J. L. Newbern Middle School Band Director Curt Kimbrough, Valdosta Middle School's Mike Mitchell, and Julie Savoie assist Guilbeau in the direction of the Marchin' Cats.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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