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Band Leader Marches in New Era

Any doubts about whether Chris Rivera, Norwalk High School’s new band director, could emulate his predecessor’s legendary success have been put to rest. This past weekend, the Norwalk High School Marching Band returned home from Danbury with its third first-place trophy and its highest score of the season.

“When I first started, people either said, ‘You have big shoes to fill’ or ‘You’re crazy,’ ” says Rivera, who took over for Jeff Smith, the band’s director for 30 years. “They said crazy because this job is such a big time commitment, six days a week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.” Fortunately, Rivera’s wife, Tosca, is an NHS color guard instructor, so he sees her at practices and competitions.

But Rivera is no stranger to the rigors of the NHS marching band. A 1998 NHS graduate, Rivera played percussion in the band. He also plays trumpet and piano. Rivera went on to Western Connecticut University for a degree in music education, and to the University of Connecticut for a master’s in music theory. Before returning to Norwalk, he was director of a middle school band in Shelton and the Trumbull High School band.

Rivera says he and Smith share the same philosophy. “We push the kids hard and expect them to be perfect. It’s not necessary to win, but to be close to perfect,” he says. “I reach out to every student, whether they are the strongest or weakest in their section. What matters to me is that kids reach their potential. Like Jeff, I teach life lessons, not just band.”

Rivera is taking a modern approach to band. This year’s show, titled “New Era: A Journey in Three Parts,” is a reflection, in part, of a new teacher and new students, says Rivera. “But we’re also taking the idea of marching band to the next level,” he says. “We have a more demanding drill and play more demanding music. The costumes, especially the color guards’, are modern looking.”

The show keeps getting better, says Rivera. “The kids are taking ownership. They are relating to it more each time,   and the emotion comes out."

“When I was a senior in high school, I was asked, ‘What do you want to do 10 years from now.’  Back then, I wrote: ‘Be band director at Norwalk High.’ It worked out.  Now I don’t plan to go anywhere.”

You can see the Norwalk Marching Band, as well as 16 other marching bands, at the Cavalcade of Bands on Saturday, Nov. 6, at Andrews Field in Norwalk.

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