Grace Murphy of Saco, left, plays with the Spartans, who are based in Nashua, New Hampshire. (Photo courtesy of Grace Murphy)

SACO — Grace Murphy wasn’t sure she liked marching band when she tried it out at Old Orchard Beach High School in ninth grade, but her decision to keep with it through college has greatly impacted her entire life.

Murphy, a Saco resident whose father previously taught at Old Orchard Beach High School, said she was pushed since she was little to try different instruments, and that has brought plenty of opportunities and challenges her way.

A Thornton Academy graduate, Murphy is a sophomore at the University of Southern Maine, majoring in music education, with a concentration in percussion, and she continues to march with the Spartans Drum & Bugle Corps.

The Spartans organization is based in Nashua, New Hampshire, and, according to its website, is a nonprofit community-based performing arts program. It was started in 1955 and is one of the most respected drum corps establishments today.

Murphy said her music teachers at OOB sparked her interest to audition and her father, who continues to teach music in Biddeford, helped pushed her to keep marching in high school.

“So growing up in that environment made music more of a part of my life,” she said. “I’m sure if you don’t grow up with that, it’s hard to have that connection. My dad being involved in that activity, it gave me an advantage. He was like, ‘It’s hard right now, but it will be fun.’”

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Last July, the Spartans toured and performed around the country, eventually winning the DCI Open Class World Championship Finals in Marion, Indiana.

Murphy said that before joining the Spartan Drum Corps, she had never had an opportunity to travel like this before.

“I’d gone to, like, one place for a weekend,” she said. “I’ve gone to Florida to go to Disney World, but touring was awesome. The community and the bonds you build are awesome.”

Murphy said she started in Old Orchard Beach High School on the snare drum and found marching to be much more difficult than any other kind of band.

“You need to know your music front to back, to the point where you don’t even need to read it,” she said. “For marching band, you need to be able to play it exactly the same every single time. It can’t be faster or slower, like they sometimes do in concert band, depending on where they are. Doing the drill was very difficult, and when I was 14, it was very different.”

Mistakes are a lot harder on the performers when they are marching, Murphy added. The players need to think through problems so that no one gets hurt or the routine isn’t entirely thrown off.

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“Marching and playing are both a physical and a mental thing,” she said. “You need to think of everything all at once. You might make a mistake. It takes a lot more than just standing still.”

When thinking about her future, Murphy said she wants to stay in Maine for her teaching career.

“I’d like to stay because there are a lot of percussion opportunities for grades K-12,” she said. “I want to give students those opportunities and do what my teachers did for me.”

Marching band has helped Murphy become more organized in her schoolwork and daily life, and she has become a better problem solver, she said. When something goes wrong, she’s more prepared to think every option through.

“In the musical side of things, I have a much deeper love for music,” she said. “Before marching band, I didn’t want to get into music. After doing marching band and thinking about it, it made me want to get into it and get into music education. Musically, it changed my path for life, changed where I want to go.”

Murphy is back with the Old Orchard Beach High School marching band, teaching the percussion section and helping the students become as passionate about music as she is.

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“It’s awesome to be back with the home base because I can see where I was at the beginning,” she said. “I feel like I can open them up to the activity.

“I’ve also had experience with Biddeford Indoor Percussion,” she added. “It was a brand-new program at the high school last year, which was awesome. We got all these kids together. The group of kids were so motivated and excited, and it was fun to give my experience.”

Murphy said she thinks a good music teacher is someone who can easily articulate themselves so that each student can understand and gives individual help when someone is struggling.

She added that she wishes she and her peers would be more recognized for their accomplishments in marching band and wants people to understand what they go through to perform and perfect their routines.

For students who don’t have a marching band at their schools but want to participate, Murphy recommends that they look into programs that might take students from other school districts.

“If you push through it, you might end up loving it,” she said.

— Catherine Bart can be reached at [email protected] or 780- 9029.

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