Madison Southern High School has a lot to be excited about when it comes to the marching band this season.

"It's an explosion of excitement," as Band Director David Ratliff said.

For one, the marching band is bigger than it has ever been in the school's history with 85 members, Ratliff said.

"The previous largest was 72, so it's a pretty big increase," he explained. "Marching band's one of those activities, though, where the larger the group is, the better your chances are, I guess you would say, 'cause there's more things you can do with a larger group. There's more formations you can make, and it can be a little more intricate. Of course, the sound would be a little deeper and a little more full if it's larger."

He also said if the color guard is larger, then the additional coloring on the field helps during competition.

On top of that, for the first time in his 24 years of being a band director, Ratliff is incorporating a message into this year's show, titled "Look Up," instead of doing a show about robots, or something generic, he said.

"The message is look up from your cell phone at the world around you. What are you missing because you're so engulfed into your cell phone?" Ratliff explained. "So there's a lot of technology sounds and a lot of things that kind of play into that. We have the kids gesturing like they're looking at their cell phones while they're marching sometimes. The kids in the color guard section are pretending to look at a cell phone in their hand while spinning their flag and dancing around."

Plus, the marching band forms the shape of a cell phone on the field a couple of times during the show, and the uniforms this year have a picture of a cell phone on them, Ratliff said.

And it's something the marching band students can get behind.

"I think it's really cool that we're trying some new stuff," said senior Abby Eipert, who plays tenor saxophone. "We have had some very interesting shows in the past, but to change it up and spice it up makes it a lot more interesting for the people who have been in band for a while, and even for the new kids. It really makes it easier to understand the show and makes it a lot more enjoyable to play and perform it."

She also said she supports the message of looking up from cell phones.

"I think it's a great topic to use, because on some level, I feel like everyone has an opinion on it," she explained. "Now what that opinion is, it will differ. But having an opinion on it makes people more interested in it and want to learn about it and more interested in the show."

Plus, it's a message that Ratliff has been trying to teach the marching band students, who he said haven't pushed back against the idea or anything.

"I've also really tried to emphasize the concept with the kids and to tell them there's other things in the world than what's going on on their screen," Ratliff said. "As anybody living in today's times would know how quickly we can get engulfed in that."

Eipert said that, to some degree, the message is resonating with her fellow marching band students, because they seem to be taking practice seriously and staying focused.

But, if that isn't enough for the marching band to be excited for, there's also two new faces assisting with Madison Southern High School's marching band this season.

One of them is Brent Barton, who was the band director Ratliff worked as an assistant to when he first started working in 1998.

"It's been kind of full circle, and it's been both nostalgic, but also just fun," Ratliff said. "He's such an awesome guy, such a master teacher, that having him around and having him in the rehearsals and in the planning process and all that has been really fun for me. And he brings a new level of energy and a new level of excitement to the program here and to the kids that we haven't really seen before."

So for this season's show, Barton wrote wind music, and Ratliff wrote the percussion part, which is how they did it back when Barton was the band director.

Emily Wilson is the other person who's helping out this year as an assistant director.

"She's young and energetic and super knowledgable. … Between her and Brent, it's like a whole explosion of excitement inside the program," Ratliff said.

And on top of that, this year, the marching band state regionals and semi-finals will be held at Madison Southern High School on Oct. 20 and 27 respectively. Then, the state finals will be at University of Kentucky in Lexington.

"It's going to be a lot of fun hosting," Eipert said. "You get to see so many different shows. Then being able to travel only an hour to go to finals is even a lot more fun. It gives us not really a home field advantage, but a little more at-home feeling, because we're a little more familiar with the area than maybe people from other places."

And of course, as band director, Ratliff's goal is to win state.

"I think anytime you run a competitive activity, your ultimate goal is to win the state championship, and we're trying to put ourselves in a position in order to do that," he said. "We're big, bigger than we have ever been, but it's a good mixture of young and old. I don't know if we have a real chance, but I know we're going to try our absolute hardest to win, and I'm excited to see where we end up going to."

Eipert, on the other hand, who would love to win, will be ecstatic to place in her final year with the band.

"First and foremost, I really want to have a great time," she said. "I always do, so that's going to be an easy goal to achieve. I'm having a great time so far. But also, I would love to place in at least the top 10, maybe the top eight."

And she emphasized how much fun she's had in the marching band during her three years of participating in it.

"I really enjoy the amount of effort it took to do well. I also really enjoy the people in it. It's just overall a really great activity," Eipert said. "It's really cool, you can actually see the progress that people make, and as a band, it's really cool to see how you grow through the season and even on a day-to-day basis."

Reach Sara Kuhl at 624-6626; follow her on Twitter @saraekuhl.

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