Above: The Newark Charter marching band in action during a recent New Year’s Day performance in Rome.
By Ken Mammarella
Photos courtesy Samantha DeLuca
The Newark Charter School marching band doesn’t have a school football team to play for at halftime, and it doesn’t participate in competitions. But it does have a reputation worthy of being invited to two international parades, and the school’s entire music program is built on fun.
“Any kid that enters any program in the music department [hopes that when they walk out] they enjoyed what they accomplished,” says high school music teacher Samantha DeLuca. “And you can always tell by the way they sound. If they give you that top-notch performance, then they’re smiling, and I’m smiling.”
There were a lot of smiles for a week after Christmas when 87 band members and about 70 choir members, accompanied by parents and chaperons, formed a group 300 strong touring Italy. The focus was a New Year’s Day parade in Rome, with the band performing and choir participating by holding onto giant balloons.
“A lot of students said to me that the excitement of the people on the street fueled their performance,” DeLuca says.
The trip also included a concert with the choir; a festival with the three other American marching bands; tours of Rome, the Vatican and Pompeii; and buses that DeLuca named after types of pasta (for more fun). The band’s finale is “Wavin’ Flag.” “That’s the song I usually take everywhere because when you’re waving flags, you’re representing your country.”
Newark Charter opened in 2001, and the high school opened in 2013, so the young school’s history has been about growth in buildings, enrollment, teachers (the high school music department now has three: DeLuca for the band, Kelly Kline for choir and Jasmine Lee for orchestra) and activities.
“It’s been exciting for us to watch the growth,” DeLuca says, noting the drumline has doubled to 13 drummers. “Going forward, my goal is to continue to grow the program and make music fun for kids.”
The marching band’s first gig beyond pep rallies was the Newark Halloween parade in 2014, and since then, students have performed at Disney World in 2017 for a spring festival and in London, England, in 2019 for a New Year’s Day parade.
“Every year, we try to do new things,” DeLuca says, adding that she’s looking into the 2023 St. Patrick’s Day and Memorial Day parades in Wilmington
Traveling abroad is time-consuming. Planning starts two and a half years out; and in the summer before the European parades, DeLuca flies out, stays at the same hotel, visits the various sites, tours the concert venues and walks the parade.
“We see it ahead of time,” she says. “So that when I do get there, I have a better understanding of what to expect to help the students.” DeLuca doesn’t have a future international event set.
Trips are also complicated: the band equipment (instruments, navy pants, tricolor jackets and feather-adorned hats called shakos) are shipped out ahead of time and returned long after the trip ends. And some would consider the trips expensive: The Rome trip was about $3,450 for every participant.
Oliver Symons, a freshman on the drum line, said it was worth it. “I felt famous,” he said. “It was pretty cool and surreal to be playing on the street for strangers.”
Symons started in the band in the fourth grade, when he was first eligible, and he also plays the guitar.
“I adore music, and I’m looking at it as a career,” he says. “If you have an opportunity to do something amazing, do your best to take it. You will not regret it.”