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Oakton HS marching band rocks the vote as finalist in Metallica competition

Oakton High School Marching Cougars perform their Metallica showcase “Parade to Black” at a varsity football game against Westfield (courtesy of David Custer)

Oakton High School’s marching band could win $15,000 from playing “Enter Sandman” and other Metallica tunes.

The Marching Cougars, as the band is called, was selected as a national finalist in the inaugural “For Whom the Band Tolls” competition, which invited high school and college marching bands to submit videos showcasing their performances of Metallica’s work.

Oakton is the high school finalist from Virginia and one of only two selected from the East Coast, according to the Oakton High School Band Boosters.

The finalists were determined by a judging panel made up of music educators, but the winners — two collegiate bands and small, medium and large high school bands — will be chosen by singer and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich and the other members of the heavy metal band.

“It is surreal to me that one of my all-time favorite bands is going to watch my band,” said Oakton Band Director Dr. Jamie vanValkenburg, who designed the Cougars’ showcase to engage “both performers and the audience through thrilling visuals and dynamic sound.”

The Cougars submitted a performance from an October varsity football game where Oakton played Westfield High School. Titled “Parade to Black,” the show features “The Unforgiven,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the regular Metallica cover song “Turn the Page,” “The Memory Remains,” and “Enter Sandman” as the finale.

In addition to the categories judged by Metallica, there are two fan favorite categories — one for colleges and one for high schools — that will be decided by public vote. All of the submissions can be viewed online, where community members can cast their vote.

Votes can also be submitted by text to 1-833-609-0330. To back the Marching Cougars, voters would need to send text “VOTE #HSOAKTON.” The voting window will close on Dec. 31.

All of the winners will be announced the week of Jan. 1. Prizes range from $10,000 for the fan favorite choices to $75,000 for the Division I collegiate category.

Members of the Marching Cougars were thrilled by their selection as finalists. Trumpet player Jayden said the honor “means a lot” to him and everyone else in the band and color guard, while bass clarinet player Jennifer said it was rewarding to contribute “to something cool and potentially beneficial to our music community and school.”

“The video turned out amazing and really showcased all the work that our band put in this season,” Deniz, a drum major, said. “Watching it back makes me so proud of us, as it really demonstrates our great improvement over the past few months.”

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