The Lafayette High School Marching Band’s 2023 show, A New Dawn, takes us on an interstellar journey to bring us “home.”
“We are Earthseed.
And the destiny of Earthseed
is to take root among the stars.”
– “Earthseed: The Book of the Living,” verse 10
in The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
What does it mean to search for “home,” especially when the home you know can no longer shelter you? Even if that home is your own planet?
These questions undergird two books by science fiction author Octavia Butler: Parable of the Sower (1995) and Parable of the Talents (1998). The books tell the story of Lauren Olamina, a young black woman surviving a dystopic America in 2024 ravaged by violence, racism, climate change, and political extremism.
Lauren’s will to live and build community is driven by her mystic belief that humans will eventually depart Earth to explore space and establish new societies on other planets. She writes a collection of poems, proverbs, and teachings that she calls “Earthseed: The Book of the Living” to guide and inspire her followers.
Her unshakable faith is that humanity is destined “to take root among the stars.”
While some might dismiss science fiction as nothing more than flights of fantasy or escapist fluff, the truth is that sci-fi is a way to explore what it means to be human in the here and now. Futuristic stories shed light on how we will make meaning out of the struggles in our own mundane yet authentic existence.
As Ursula K. Le Guin explained in the introduction to her book The Left Hand of Darkness, science fiction is best approached as a “thought-experiment” that allows us to make sense of our present realities rather than to predict the future.
“A New Dawn”
The Lafayette High School Marching Band in Lexington, Kentucky, delved into these themes of space exploration and finding home in “A New Dawn,” their award-winning show for the 2023 season. Under the direction of Robert “Dee” Bishop and assistant directors Chris Strange, Aaron Jones, and John Bowmer, the band has given us an inspiring futuristic vision of what it means for humanity to work together to launch its dreams and its destiny.
Two ways of finding home
In the parent meeting at the beginning of the season, Mr. Bishop explained that as they were designing the show, they knew they wanted to explore the theme of “home.” He said that there are two ways to approach this concept.
“You have two options,” he said. “Either you have to leave home and then come back again. Or you have to leave completely and establish a new home. We chose the latter for this show.”
In “A New Dawn,” we see what it looks like when 223 high school musicians and color guard, together with staff and countless family volunteers, dedicate their time, talent, and intense focus on creating such a moving and energetic show.
To watch the Lafayette Marching Band 2023 show, “A New Dawn,” click here.
Telling the story of “A New Dawn”
There are three aspects of a marching band program that help to tell the story: the music, the props, and the formations and choreography on the field, known as drill. In “A New Dawn,” the show’s music begins with an evocative guitar melody from the song, “Letters from Home,” by Pat Metheny. The melody is picked up by a small brass ensemble, and then echoed by the entire band.
The music conveys a sense of yearning and searching, an idea that starts with one and is taken up by the whole, like Lauren Olamina sharing her Earthseed message with others. That message is: we must leave this place and search for a new home. And that home is beyond even this planet. This is a journey that we must make to the stars.
The famous “wall of sound”
As the music swells into that famous “wall of sound” for which the Lafayette Marching Band is so well-known, the ensemble takes the form of a rocket ship lifting off, leaving a pluming swirl in its wake.
There’s no turning back now, and the ensemble’s definitive music (“Frenergy” by John Esacio) and drill demonstrate a sense of discipline and purpose. We will do this – and we will do it together!
But that purpose is subsumed by an unexpected twist. In the middle of the field, we see a huge “black hole” that inexorably draws the band into its center, concluding the first movement with a sense of drama and uncertainty.
Floating, then reforming
As the second movement begins, the band members fan out like a sunburst of Earthseed tendrils that drift into the galaxy. The haunting guitar and pulsing notes of the front ensemble, together with the searching melody of the woodwinds (“Earth Song” from Music of the Spheres by Frank Ticheli), evoke a sensation of weightlessness in space.
But with the insistence of the brass section, the ensemble reassembles and launches individual crafts that hover and spin until they come together to form “houses” on their new planet.
Movement three is one of pure celebration!
Members of the band cascade across the field with shiny streamers while the drumline announces that their time has come – they have arrived!
The music of “Earth” by Imogene Heap drives the ensemble into formations of pods and lines, all intersecting, weaving, and filling the air with purpose in this new place. Then, they all come together in stripes and stars that are reminiscent of a flag – but it’s a new flag for a new home.
With a brief reprise of the music from movement two to remind us of how far they’ve come, the ensemble moves into the shape of a house.
Then, with majestic grandeur, the band marches forward to the second movement of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, famously given the lyrics, “Going Home,” by William Arms Fisher.
The ensemble has found their new home!
They spread out into lines like rays from a new sun. And then, in a stunning visual effect, a 60-yard-wide “dawn” cloth rises up and over the band, coming to rest over the place where the black hole had been.
With their homes established and a new dawn illuminating their way on this planet, they reach behind them to point the way. Then they reach out to us, the viewers, as if to say, “Here it is — your new home!”
Bringing us home
Capping a four-month-long season of daily practices six days a week, the Pride of the Bluegrass won first place in all invitational competitions and second place in the Bands of America Regional Competition in Johnson City, Tennessee, on Oct. 21. They then brought home first place in the 5A Division of the Kentucky Music Educators Association State Band Competition on Oct. 28, their 23rd first place trophy!
With the light of a new dawn breaking on that new horizon, the Lafayette Marching Band truly helped us to take root among the stars!
To watch the Lafayette Marching Band 2023 show, “A New Dawn,” click here.
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Her newest book is Introduction to Preaching: Scripture, Theology, and Sermon Preparation, co-authored with Jerry L. Sumney and Emily Askew (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).