Saugus marching band perseveres through tragedy

Members of the Saugus High School marching band perform their routine at the 36th Annual Rampage band competition. November 02, 2019. Bobby Block / The Signal.
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The Saugus High School marching band and color guard has had to endure things, one after the other, and still has managed to find a way to succeed — to the point where the band has earned an invitation to perform in Washington, D.C. 

From a school shooting in 2019 that devastated the school and the community as a whole, to having to endure practicing music through a pandemic, all the while going through several music directors, “the kids just can’t catch a break,” said Band Director Bob Grigas in a recent podcast series based the band.  

“Coming out of COVID, that was a big one. There was a shooting at the school. I mean, this was kind of prior to when I got there, but it all kind of matters to what’s going on now,” Grigas told The Signal. “The fact that there’s been like four different band directors in five years. That’s a big one, too. And yeah, fire, that was a big one. That was a huge one. Like, having to deal with fires, that really messed us up… There’s been quite a few hurdles that we’ve had to jump over just to get where we are.” 

Raquel Atilano, drum major (student conductor) for the band, said the shooting in particular was a difficult thing to overcome. Atilano was a freshman on that day.  

“I remember, the day of that, we were actually practicing for our auditions that were supposed to happen the next week,” said Atilano. “So that was really hard — to kind of overcome that. A lot of us, I mean, I know me personally, I struggled to practice for a while because it was what I was doing in that moment. It was just really hard for me to pick up my horn again and get back into it. But at the end, I obviously came out stronger and I think a lot of the band did, too.” 

Atilano said after that day, things just became increasingly unstable. With the fires, the pandemic, and the seemingly constant turnover of band directors made the experience seem unstable. However, when Grigas arrived, Atilano said things began to change. 

While Grigas has only been the director at Saugus for two years, the band has seen success under his leadership. Atilano said Grigas has made a huge impact on the group.  

“He’s done so many amazing things for our program. Last year, his first year, we had made it to championships for the first time in, I think five years? And that has always been the band’s goal ever since I was a freshman,” said Atilano. “Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen the first couple of years because of a pandemic and other circumstances. But this year, he was really focused… it really showed how dedicated he was to the band and how dedicated the band was just to put in all of their effort to get to where we wanted to be.” 

Grigas said it was little things that eventually developed into success, such as tidying up the classroom and the instrument locker, and organizing the music library. He believes that when students see these small changes, they perform better.  

“It’s funny, the small things really make the big things happen. You know, it’s just the fact that if they feel like things are organized, the students are going to feel more productive because they feel like there is some structure to what’s going on, rather than just kind of chaos… So I think that’s one of the biggest changes — is that I took the program very seriously and that’s because I plan to be here for a long time.” 

The band and guard was able to place sixth in that championship competition and more recently, the band was invited to play at the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. That opportunity, Atilano said, is rare.  

“I mean, it feels amazing, it’s like, I don’t know how to describe it — it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the fact that we were invited just feels so amazing,” said Atilano. “I know everyone’s so honored… And it’s really nice and amazing to see the growth and everybody’s so excited about the tour. Everybody wants everybody to go and everybody’s dedicated.” 

The band wants to take everyone on the trip to D.C., but still hasn’t fully raised the funds to do it. The band’s fundraising efforts were to include a bake sale this past weekend, but this was canceled due to extreme weather in the forecast. To see their fundraising page for their trip to Washington, visit 

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