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Highty-Tighties to take the halftime stage

October 17, 2016

Cadet Riley Cooper, at center, practices the drill for one of Thursday night's halftime songs.

Cadet Riley Cooper, at center, and the rest of the Highty-Tighties practice the drill for one of Thursday night's halftime songs.
Cadet Riley Cooper, at center, and the rest of the Highty-Tighties practice the drill for one of Thursday night's halftime songs.

It reads like a clue on a treasure map — F12, 4MV, MT10.

Cadet Riley Cooper, of Dover, Massachusetts, spent weeks crafting the instructions that lead the Highty-Tighties, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ regimental band, to the 50-yard line of Worsham Field.

Cooper, a senior majoring in computer engineering with minors in cybersecurity and math, as well as in leadership from the Corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development, is the Highty-Tighties’ drill captain.

His job is to create the drill, or the marching instructions, in military terms. On Thursday night, the regimental band will play the halftime show during the Hokies’ football game against Miami, giving them a special moment in the spotlight.

Normally, the Highty-Tighties perform during pregame events, getting fans who are inside Lane Stadium early excited to see the football game. This week, they’re the main attraction.

“There’s a lot more hype behind a halftime show,” Cooper said. “Everyone will be in the stands to see us, and there will be a lot more energy.”

It’s a lot more work for students, who write and manage the entire drill for performances, said Senior Chief Jim Bean, regimental band director. The Highty-Tighties will play three songs, doubling the length of their normal program during the pregame event, Bean said.

Cooper starts with a computer program called Pyware that allows him to design the drill sequences virtually. Each musician is represented by a number that designates their position in the formation. (Cooper is A2 — the first person on the left side of the second row.)

The program then delivers each person’s step pattern into a series of numbers — in the example above it means march 14 paces forward, turn toward the student section for four paces, then mark time, or march in place, 10 steps —  which is delivered to each musicians on a 3-by-5 index cards.

Cadet Riley Cooper uses a program called Pyware to design the drill for the Highty-Tighties' halftime show.

Cadet Riley Cooper works on a laptop.
Cadet Riley Cooper uses a program called Pyware to design the drill for the Highty-Tighties' halftime show.

Cooper spent hours watching numbers march around a grid on his computer screen, making tiny corrections along the way.

“If you don’t do it right, people will crash,” Cooper said.

The drill captain’s job appealed to him because of the math involved.

“I figured I could use my strengths to write the drill,” he said. “A lot of it is math and making sure counts match up to music. And there’s geometry, too, making sure people have landmarks to know where to go and making sure the band is positioned right on the field.”

Cooper plays the mellophone —the equivalent of a large trumpet — in the band. He’s played the French horn since the fifth grade but had never been part of a marching band until he joined the corps his freshman year.

A recipient of a corps’ Emerging Leader Scholarship, Cooper is in Air Force ROTC, where he plans to focus on cyber operations or research.

Two Wednesday evenings ago, he watched the Highty-Tighties march his drill for the first time. They did it without music and without instruments, focused on learning the step pattern with the 3-by-5 index cards held up for reference.

Next, they added their instruments, and finally the music, too.

This week, they’re adding the final polish to the performance, making sure everything is just right for Thursday night.

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