SYRACUSE — "1 ... 2 ... 3 ... Family!" was the chant members of the Auburn Vanguard marching band recited before they took to the Carrier Dome field Sunday morning for the New York State Field Band Championship.
The Vanguard, in their 39th year performing at the championship event, placed sixth out of seven teams in the Large School 3 division with a score of 73.35. Fellow Finger Lakes-region school, the Jordan-Elbridge Marching Eagles, also took part in the competition. The Eagles' murder mystery-themed performance scored 77.5 points, good enough for fourth place out of 11 bands in the Small School 3 division.
Auburn band director Mike Miller said Sunday following the Vanguard's "Arabian Nights" performance that he has been involved with high school marching bands for over 20 years and this year's group of young Auburn musicians is different than any other he has worked with before.
"They really developed a family atmosphere," Miller said, gesturing to the group of students sitting a few rows ahead of him in the Dome's bleachers. "They said it themselves, that it really has become a family. It means a lot to them."
The band's three student conductors, drum majors Abby Babbitt, Rachel Howard and Olivia Avery, agreed.
"The Vanguard is the definition of family," said Babbitt.
The Marching Eagles' director Zachary Moser echoed the Vanguard members' sentiments.
"I tell them to perform for each other," Moser said following his band's performance. "Don't worry about what the judges have to say, you go out there and give your best for each other. We're one big family when we're performing."
Both Miller and Moser said Sunday's performances at the Carrier Dome were the best they had seen from their respective bands this season.
Miller said the Vanguard's score of 73.35 was about 12 points higher than their first competition of the season.
"Our biggest thing is continuous improvement and they've done that," Miller said.
"I think they gave the best performance of the season," Moser said of his band. "They were really clean out there, really projecting a lot of confidence and showing off what they worked on. They made a ton of progress as the season went on and we're all just really proud of how far they've come."
The band directors also credit the stellar performances to not only the hard work their student musicians put in through the months, but also because both bands played at large stadium venues earlier in the season.
The Jordan-Elbridge band performed earlier this season at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
"They has a lot of nerves going into (playing at MetLife stadium) but today they seemed a lot more calm and ready to have fun and have a good performance," Moser said.
As for the Vanguard, this is their second time playing at the Carrier Dome this year. The band performed during halftime at the Auburn-Ithaca football game in September.
"You always hope this is going to be the best performance of the year but that doesn't always happen — you get in the Dome and it's a big, intimidating room and things go goofy, you hear that echo in the background," Miller said. "Our instructors were all in agreement, there really was nothing more we could have asked them to do today. They had a great final rehearsal yesterday, did some fine tuning then and they responded well to everything we asked them to do and it showed today."
Gallery: Auburn, Jordan-Elbridge marching bands perform at New York State Field Band Championship
The Auburn Vanguard and the Jordan-Elbridge Marching Eagles performed at the 44th annual New York State Field Band Championship Sunday at the Carrier Dome. Auburn competed in the Large School 3 division, while Jordan-Elbridge was in the Small School 3 division.