Brigade of Blue marches to new beat

WORTON — The first football game of the season here Friday night also was the kickoff for Kent County High School’s marching band, which has long been known in these parts as the Brigade of Blue.

Here are some things you might want to know.

There’s a new drum major, senior Aaron Saunders.

There’s a new band director, KCHS graduate Jodi Vickers Bortz ’92.

And there’s also been a subtle change in attire, high-top gold-colored sneakers replacing the standard black footwear.

All told there are 26 musicians, which is a tad more than last year. That number includes Saunders and assistant drum majors Phoebe Preston and Joseph Donaldson.

Half a dozen musicians also are playing a fall sport: John Hinton (pit section leader), Sophie Cousineau, Alden Swanson, Alex Herman (saxophone section leader) and Lynden Saunders, who run cross country, and Avon Hubbard, who plays football.

Two members of the color guard also are playing a fall sport: McKenzie Smith (cross country) and Aryonna Wesley (volleyball).

Amber Long and Chasity Joncas are co-captains of the color guard.

Friday night, when the weather was ideal for a high school football game, the Brigade of Blue performed two songs: “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa and “Borderline“ by Tame Impala. Saunders arranged the latter.

Ultimately, according to Bortz, “About Damn Time” and “Juice,” both by Lizzo, will be added to the show.

“Our tradition is the drum major picks the theme and songs and Aaron and the leadership team wanted to do songs that would be fun for the band to play and that the crowd would like,” Bortz said.

Anyone who didn’t race over to the concession stand at halftime should have noticed that the musicians and color guard stepped out onto the field wearing gold-colored “kicks” — a knock-off of the iconic Chuck Taylor All Star that never goes out of style.

Bortz said there weren’t enough of the old black shoes that were still in marching condition so after talking with the Band Boosters and student leaders, they opted to “go for something fun and totally different.”

The Brigade of Blue practiced nightly for a week or so during what is called “band camp” to prepare for Friday’s season-opening performance. From Aug. 21 through Aug. 31, they worked on the new music and bonded with one another. They also rehearsed how to march and play music at the same time.

This is Bortz’s first year as the band director, though she was heavily involved last year with the program because her daughter Sydney, who plays percussion, is a member of the Brigade of Blue.

“It’s not something I thought was in the cards for me, but I am incredibly honored to take the helm and continue the legacy of the KCHS Brigade of Blue,” Bortz wrote in an email. “I am so proud of the students who work so hard. … We have an incredible support system in the boosters and community partners who help us do big things. I am excited to see where we can take the program this year and in coming years.”

While a student at KCHS, Bortz, who grew up near Chestertown, was in the marching band. She and Eric Wright, now the band director at Queen Anne’s County High School, were the drum majors in what Bortz described as a “team” of drum majors.

Bortz attended Moravian College (now University) and graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Music in performance and pedagogy. She helped start the Suzuki Institute at Moravian after graduation and was an artist lecturer in flute off and on over the years.

She moved back to Kent County in 2013.

Before being hired by the school system in 2020, she was teaching private flute lessons and running her own businesses — flute accessory business Flute Hoot, which she has a patent for a flute cleaning device that she sells there, and Blue Canary Letterpress. She continues to operate both, but on a very limited basis.

Bortz received her official teaching certification through Chesapeake College in 2022. She has now begun a music education master’s program of study at Temple University.

She teaches music at H.H. Garnet Elementary School in Chestertown, where she also leads the Music Club and the Tiger Chorus.

At KCHS, in addition to being the band director, she teaches band as a class and also will be leading all of the afterschool bands including concert, jazz, small ensembles and the show choir.
She is the school system’s Promising New Educator for 2023.

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