New RFA marching band director aspires to lead the program in hitting higher notes

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The bright, boastful, Roman-esque orange and black uniforms, the searing shrill of the trumpets, the lilting flutter of the flutes, the deep-diving verve of the drums.

Roaring out onto RFA Stadium Field like an army, adding to the energy of stands full with students and family and friends, the aroma of French fries and hot dogs and popcorn, the swish of pom poms and the back flips of cheerleaders, the crash of pads and the guttural groans of the players and the game … all as the sunset fades to dusk and the “Friday night lights” rise to illuminate the Black Knights and that bulwark of dance and song and synchronicity. Diverse and dynamic and strong. 2018 New York State Champions. The sights and sounds of fall and high school football, set to music. The Rome City School District Marching Band. 

If you are not already playing in the game or cheering on the sideline, are you not curious about joining them on the field and fusing with marching members 100 strong to heralding the second half while mesmerizing local high school football fans with a unity of motion and music?

“We welcome you to an inclusive, exciting and robust community of performing artists,” says Stephen “Steve” Russell, Rome City School District’s new marching band director, to any student rising to grades 7 through 12 who has toyed with trying marching band, RFA’s largest student group, where tin ears and two left feet and a passion to be part of something special are all welcome.

Russell has only been director of the RFA Marching Band program for a few weeks, yet seemed right at home in the RFA Band Room, quintessentially cluttered with black music stands, tubas and trombones, French horns and flutes, drum sticks and dozens of empty chairs, waiting to be filled with student members this fall. This is where he and colleague, Lindsay Mogle, who has directed the Color Guard for RFA Marching Band since 2011 – the program’s inaugural competition year – work to plan the weekly Monday night summer rehearsals – and plot a reprise of the RFA Marching Band’s 2018 state championship.

The Marching Band program at RFA is comprised of students in grades 7 through 12 who, together, form the Marching Band, the Color Guard and the Drum Corps. Mogle boasts that it is the largest competitive group at RFA, as well as the largest co-ed group. The Marching Band, as a whole, with approximately 100 student members, performs at half-time for RFA football home games in the fall, and stages the popular Winterguard program, where the Color Guard does an annual indoor dance performance to pre-recorded theme music. The group then performs that program in tiered state competition, separate from the annual Marching Band competition, where 12 to 25 other Winterguard groups may be participating.

“If I know a student has dance experience, I recruit that extra hard,” said Mogle of her efforts to attract new members to Color Guard and Winterguard. “Dance is the basis of everything.”

Mogle offered that RFA finished their eighth year of the competition-level Marching Band, prior to the Pandemic in March of 2020, and proudly shared that the program “has grown.”

“We call it DOME DAY,” said Mogle of the moniker given to the competition by the RFA Marching Band members, who look forward to joining their New York State cohorts at the famed local venue every year, on or about Halloween.

“It is a great point of pride for the community,” said Mogle.

Russell is excited to helm the program with Mogle at his side and Jamie Mazur contributing choreography support, while appreciating Jake Meiss, Director of RFA’s Music and Theater programs, waiting in the wings to provide any support he may need.

“Jake Meiss had a passion for it and got the kids on board,” said Mogle of Meiss being “instrumental” in expanding RFA’s music program to include Marching Band.

Russell hopes to build upon that passion and the successes achieved by the Marching Band program over the past 10 years.

“The goal is to go even further:” said Russell, “to expand; to grow; to help Marching Band flourish here at RFA.”

Russell, a Central New York native, having grown up in East Syracuse and attending East Syracuse Minoa High School, recalls his first time going out for Marching Band practice.

Russell recalled, “I spent the rest of my life just BEING in Marching Band.”

Russell, who did not attend a college that had a Marching Band, returned whenever he could to ESMHS to help out. He went on to spend two years as the Brass Captain for the Marching Band at Jordan Elbridge High School in Onondaga County.

Mogle, from Clinton, is an alumna of Clinton High School, who – due to the smaller size of their student body – participated in parade band. She went on to study at the University of Buffalo, where she was a member of what she believes is one of only two, full competitive college marching bands in New York State, with Syracuse University’s “Pride of the Orange” being the other.

This past year, pandemic restrictions prevented fall sports or any congregation of spectators, for high school football or marching bands. Where Covid-19 guidelines also prevented Winterguard from inviting an audience to their RFA performance and prohibiting the gathering of groups to a centralized competition, a virtual competition was hosted, where, rather than naming a state champion, participants were rated based upon feedback from a panel of judges.

Due to the pandemic and the restrictions it placed on the district, the directors shared that they have essentially lost two recruiting classes and worry whether they can gather together the members they need to be able to “march” toward the goals they have set for the program. 

Russell and Mogle hope to see new faces this summer at the Monday night rehearsals, inviting any students rising to Grades 7 through 12 in the Rome City School district to push past the initial fear of something new and give it a chance.

“The hardest part is coming to the first rehearsal,” said Mogle. “Once you’re there, it’s instant family.”

Mogle points out that students who begin participating in Marching Band in Grade 7 or 8 report finding the transition to RFA to be “so much easier.”

“Because they already have their ‘people,’” said Mogle

“It is a place for all students,” said Mogle of RFA’s Marching Band program – entering its 10th season this fall – and stressed that no prior experience at all is necessary to join, and where there are no “try-outs” or “practice teams.” 

“The nice part is that there is no “2nd string” on this team,” said Mogle. “Everybody gets a spot on the field.”

Russell elaborated to welcome new members, “whether a student’s background is that you never touched an instrument or haven’t played for years.”

With the oppressive restrictions of the pandemic now lifted and optimism abounding for a more “normal” fall, the dedicated directors, excited to get back on the field and up on the stage, previewed the signature performance planned for this coming season, called “Fire and Ice,” which they promise will feature “stunning visuals and exciting music.” Fans can look forward to coming to RFA Stadium this fall to see the spectacle performed by the Marching Band during half time of home football games.

The RFA Marching Band also supports the local community by performing at events, such as Rome’s annual Honor America Day on or near July 4 and by marching in the Central New York Veterans Day Parade hosted at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse in November.

“Where else can you go,” challenged Russell, “to find an activity where you have 100 kids on the field at the same time, working toward the same goal?”

Mogle challenges any student even curious about the Marching Band program to come to just one practice. She is confident that’s all she needs to convince you to keep coming back.

“Here! Hold this clarinet,” proclaimed Mogle to those students. “Just hold it. You don’t need to make a sound with it yet, if you don’t want to. That will come in time.”

The Rome City School District Marching Band will hold summer rehearsals every Monday evening, rain or shine, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the RFA Parking Lot (or in the Band Room in the case of inclement weather). Any student rising to grades 7 through 12 is welcome to attend a rehearsal, meet the directors and some of the current Marching Band members. Interested students and parents wanting to learn more about the Marching Band program can also visit and “like” the RFA Marching Band facebook page, where messages will be read and responded to by the directors, or feel free to email Steve Russell at strussell@romecsd.org.

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