There are few high school groups that symbolize pride more than a marching band, with their unified lines, harmonic explosions of sound, and unwavering levels of stamina. Spectators are riveted by the precision of these cohesive groups, forged by hours of dedication and practice. Feet start tapping, and heads begin bobbing in rhythm as each band ignites the crowd. With prep football season now officially under way, the lakes area marching bands are ready to compete with their peers across the nation.
Marching bands are comprised of several units, including the band itself, a color guard, and a drumline, but each group is interdependent on the other, and each student’s role is integral to ensuring a stellar performance.
Here in the lakes area, high schools are beaming with pride over the accomplishments of their marching bands, ensembles and color guards. Many have earned high recognition for their efforts by marching off with first-place finishes at state competitions.
The following is a look at what spectators can expect as the new school year begins and marching band programs are in full swing for football season — and beyond.
HURON VALLEY MILFORD
The Huron Valley Milford High School Marching Band has consistently placed in state finals at the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA) state championships and has made 13 appearances at the Bands of America/Music for All Grand Nationals, a competition held each year in Indianapolis, Ind.
One dramatic change in the Milford program this year is Katy Sare, the school’s new band director who joined Huron Valley Milford this spring.
“My philosophy is that these students are teachers, all varsity first-string players who are never benched,” Sare said. “While I respect sports, marching band is different and has the edge because every child’s contribution is so important and dependent on each other.”
The Milford marching band program continues to draw new students every year. Right now there are 50 students involved: 11 in the Color Guard; nine in the drumline, three drum majors; and 27 who play wind instruments. The drum majors conduct the band on the field and hold leadership roles among peers.
“The drum majors are the ones I can count on and who motivate the students,” Sare said.
She added that upper-classmen take the younger students under their wings.
“There is an incredible bond and leadership,” Sare said. “The older ones help out the younger ones.”
Senior Drum Major Andrew Mikolaizyk is a student conductor, leader, and part of the band’s leadership personnel. His talents extend to the saxophone, piano, and violin.
“The people you meet and the friends you make — it’s really amazing how close everyone gets,” he said. “I would recommend it to anyone willing to try something completely different.”
The Milford High School Marching Band has been a member of the MCBA for 26 years. Apart from football games, the band performs almost every Saturday at a competition on the MCBA circuit. The band also spends two weeks of pre-camp rehearsal at the high school in August, and attends a week-long camp before school starts each fall.
The band also participates in a pair of competitions, one at Huron Valley Lakeland High School, called Bands Across the Valley, where 15 bands compete on Oct. 13. The other competition is the Huron Valley Invitational, where 30 bands vie for honors the week before the state finals on Oct. 27.
The color guard and drumline compete in the winter and spring as part of the Michigan Color Guard Circuit. These groups practice rigorously all year. Currently they practice fours hours a day, Tuesday through Thursday, and all day Saturday, to prepare for the weekly competitions.
The full marching band has both a pre-game show, which serves to energize the crowd and the football team for each home game; and a halftime show, the program the band performs at its competitions.
This year’s score, arranged by Huron Valley Milford staff member Jacob Turnbow, is “Blueprints: The Architecture of Music,” and features “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel and “Fantasia in G” by Timothy Mahr.
“It’s quite elaborate with staging and choreography, so there’s a high level of musicality,” Sare said. “Our arranger does a great job of perfectly challenging the kids and this is what we’re judged on during competitions.”
The hard work has paid off. The Huron Valley Schools Winter Guard, comprised of beginning students from Huron Valley Milford and Huron Valley Lakeland high schools, as well as Oak Valley, Muir, and White Lake middle schools, took third-place at the state finals earlier this year.
The Huron Valley Alliance, made up of the more advanced upper-classmen, also took third-place. These students learn advanced skills in flag, rifle, and saber routines.
Senior Paxton McCartney has been with the color guard for seven seasons and loves the thrill of performing.
“The feeling of marching onto the football field and looking at the stands is the most surreal feeling,” she said. “I have experienced so much. I’ve learned how to perform and how to be in sync with everyone else around me. It takes a lot of work and time, but the friendships and the lessons learned are worth it.”
The Huron Valley Percussion group walked away with first-place in its class earlier this year. The Winter Drumline consists of students from Huron Valley Milford and Lakeland high schools. These students can march while playing snare, tenor, and bass drums, and cymbals. They can also perform in the front ensemble or pit while playing marimba, xylophone, vibraphone, synthesizer, and a variety of other instruments.
Junior Blake Baareman has played the snare drum for five years in the band and lauds the program for its camaraderie.
“What I enjoy most is the friendship and bond that comes from the hours and hours of hard work,” he said. “When you join any of these groups, you join a family. Everybody is brought in, and we all defend each other with a bond that can never be broken.”
HURON VALLEY LAKELAND
Band Director Bob Green has been overseeing the Lakeland High School Marching Band for 17 years. During his tenure, the band program has realized significant success.
“The big thing is we’ve been state champs four times and in 1999 we were a national (championship) semi-finalist,” Green said. “We’ve been a state finalist 19 out of the last 20 years.”
Last year, the marching band took eighth-place at the state championships and was awarded the grand championship title at the West Bloomfield High School Invitational.
There are 68 members of the marching band — 40 who play wind instruments, two drum majors, 20 percussionists; and six color guard members.
Apart from the Field Day Competition held this past weekend, the Lakeland High School Marching Band will perform at seven other competitions this year, concluding the season at the national championship in Indianapolis.
This year the band’s program score is “Out of Many, One.” It is a trio of songs, including “The Way You Are” by Bruno Mars, “We Are Young” by Fun, and “Paradise” by Coldplay.
Being a member of the marching band has made the high school experience a positive one for students like Abbi Shotwell and Katie Bailey.
Shotwell, a senior who is the flute section leader, says it’s the cohesiveness that sets the group apart from others.
“We get to spend so much time together and become close, even out of marching band practice,” she said. “We continue that relationship as a family where everyone helps one another.”
Bailey, a senior drum major, said she takes her role seriously as a conductor on the field.
“I have to be there to motivate kids and when there’s a problem,” Bailey said.
She said she agrees with Shotwell that the friendships formed are what she has gained the most from the experience.
“These are the best friends I’ve ever made,” she said. “These are people from all different backgrounds and we stick together. Everyone is close.”
WALLED LAKE CENTRAL
Walled Lake Central High School has one of the largest and most competitive marching band programs in the area, with 170 student members and back-to-back state competition championships.
“We do a competitive show and it is so complex that we couldn’t take the time to learn another for football games, but obviously the environment is different,” said David Rogers, the director of bands at the school, of the performances the band will give at home football games and competitions this year.
The band consists of 100 wind players, four drum majors, 32 percussionists and 34 members of the color guard. That’s about 100 more members than were in the band when Rogers began heading up the program in 1995.
“It was a work in progress and still is, but it was much smaller and we struggled at competitions in the beginning,” Rogers said. “But, we kept our focus on improving ourselves and staying positive, and that has led to success.”
In terms of achievements, the band has since finished in the top four in the state nine times. The band took first-place in the MCBA Flight 1 Championship in 2010 and 2011. Last season’s successes also include first-place finishes at the Novi Invitational; Woodhaven Invitational; Milford Invitational; Plymouth-Canton Invitational; and 40th-place at the Bands of America Grand Nationals.
Rogers credits the students, parents and instructors at the middle school and lower levels for making the program at Walled Lake Central High School a success.
“Every year we take steps forward and we build, not just at the high school, but at the middle school level and the parents and district. It’s a group effort,” he said. “We stress leadership and spend time making effective leaders, so the standard is high and the kids hold each other accountable to it.”
Rogers said this year’s competitive program will blend contemporary music with classic rock, which he said should have wide appeal with audiences. Specifically, he said the show will be based around “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin. Using the Viking theme, the band and color guard will convey the song and lyrics to the audience through music and visuals.
WALLED LAKE WESTERN
The Walled Lake Western High School Marching Band has 98 student members, including 17 percussionists, two drum majors, two majorettes, and 77 wind instrument musicians.
Patrick Dudzinski, director of the Walled Lake Western marching band, said that while the band plays at football games and festivals, it isn’t a competitive band. The band will perform at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association District 4 Marching Band Festival on Oct. 10 at Royal Oak High School.
“We perform the same show for football games and festivals,” Dudzinski said. “We consistently receive First Division Ratings at festival.”
The Walled Lake Western band is one of the few in the state that doesn’t incorporate a color guard.
Dudzinski said the number of students participating in band is growing.
“Our numbers have been influenced by redistricting that has taken place … we are getting back up to where we need to be,” he said.
Dudzinski described the style of the band as a hybrid between a competitive band and a “sort of fun” band. Members rehearse about six hours each week and focus on music pieces that are tailored toward a football audience.
By keeping rehearsal hours relatively low, Dudzinski said many band members are able to participate in other fall sports or extracurricular activities that they otherwise may not be able to enjoy.
“To (compete) successfully, you really have to rehearse a ton,” he said. “(Not competing) helps keep costs down, and hopefully fewer are excluded … if we rehearsed more than we did, I know more would have to choose between band and sports.”
WALLED LAKE NORTHERN
The Walled Lake Northern High School Marching Band also received a First Division Rating at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association Festival in 2011. The school’s marching band is made up of five sections, including winds, a drumline, a color guard, majorettes, and drum majors. Students must audition for all sections, except winds, according to the school’s music booster website. The band performs at all home varsity football games, the annual Walled Lake Memorial Day Parade, and various invitationals.
Most high school marching bands require members to attend band camp during the summer, but the Marching Knights at Walled Lake Northern have two band camps.
“The first is a day camp hosted at school, and then we pack everything up and head off to away camp, where we spend the week learning our show,” said Mary Hulliberger, director of bands at Walled Lake Northern.
The band, which has 169 members, plays at all home football games and selected invitationals, as well as the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association festival. Hulliberger said the band is student-centered with a great emphasis on student leadership. For instance, she said drum majors Evan Bahm, Ben Schubet, and Nico Laenen lead the band on the field, with section leaders assisting and in charge of all musical aspects of their section. Squad leaders then make sure their specific squads are set with all things marching on the field.
“We strive to improve our performance at every rehearsal,” Hulliberger said. “Our students take great pride in their performance, preparation, and traditions.”
The band was selected to perform at Disney World’s Electric Light Parade earlier this year, and drum majors earned awards at Michigan State University’s Performing Arts Camp. The Marching Knights also earned a Division 1 rating at the festival for several years.
Northern will join Western and Central, as well as Milford High School and West Bloomfield High School, on Saturday, Sept. 15 for a preview show at Walled Lake Central High School. The show allows bands to play for and support each other. All of the bands will perform “America The Beautiful” to close the show.
West Bloomfield High School’s marching band is regarded as one of the best in the state, with this year’s edition fielding 90 students, including 30 woodwind players, 26 brass players, 12 drumline members, 10 front ensemble members, 11 color guard members, and drum majors Natasha Kamat and Robbie Bell.
The Lakers’ season began with the South Lyon Field Day on Saturday, Sept. 8 and will continue with the Walled Lake Marching Preview at Walled Lake Central on Sept. 15.
Then on Sept. 29, West Bloomfield will host its 27th annual Laker Invitational, which in the past has featured bands from across the lakes area and the state.
Admission to the event is $7, with children 5 and under admitted free.
The Lakers will then compete at the Bands of America Regional Championships at the Pontiac Silverdome on Oct. 6, followed by competitions at Clarkston on Oct. 20 and Huron Valley Lakeland on Oct. 27.
This year’s MCBA state finals are on Nov. 3 at Ford Field.
“We have placed in the top five at state finals the last six years and we also won the state championship in 2008. From 2008 to 2010 we were a Grand National Semi-finalist at (The Bands of America) Grand Nationals,” said Chad Mielens, the band director at West Bloomfield High School and Abbott Middle School. “We field a winter drumline and a winter color guard. Our winter drumline placed 10th this last year at (Winter Guard International) World Championships.”
Mielens serves as the co-director of West Bloomfield bands along with Carl Stein, while Pat McLaughlin serves as the director of the percussion unit and winter drumline.
West Bloomfield’s winter drumline also took first-place at the Winter Guard International Regional in Troy last season and second-place at the Michigan Color Guard Circuit championship.
Last January, West Bloomfield band members Justin Bronstein and Zachary Helm were selected from among students from across the country to play in the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
In fact, West Bloomfield has seen at least one of its members play at the All-American Bowl the last four years.
For more information on West Bloomfield’s band program, log onto the band’s official website at wbbands.info.
This season, Waterford Mott High School’s marching band has 46 students including two drum majors, 25 members who play wind instruments, seven battery percussion players, seven front ensemble members, four color guard members, and one baton twirler.
On Sept. 15, Mott’s band will play at the Wayne Memorial High School Scholastic Invitational, followed by a performance at the Chippewa Valley High School Scholastic Invitational on Sept. 29.
On Oct. 3, Mott will play at the Grand Ledge High School Exhibition with Michigan State University, followed by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association Marching Band Festival at Royal Oak High School on Oct. 10.
Then on Oct. 20, Mott will perform at the Jenison High School Scholastic Invitational.
“We perform the same show as we do at the halftime show for our football games. We also add more drill and visual effects as the season goes on,” said Mott Band Director David Alan Philipp. “We have participated in many marching competitions around Michigan. Some past venues include Plymouth-Canton, (Huron Valley) Lakeland, Clarkston and West Bloomfield high schools.”
“We have performed and done very well in the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association marching band festival. We have also performed in the Holiday Extravaganza Parade in Pontiac and the Memorial Day Parade in Waterford.”
Philipp added that Mott was nearly able to play at Ford Field for the MCBA state championships last year.
Mott’s marching band, drumline and color guard perform together in the fall, but the drumline and color guard members participate in winter ensembles, as well.
Tim Strait, a senior and one of Mott’s two drum majors this year, said that he believes his band can make it to the state championships.
“I really think we’ve gotten better. The camaraderie has increased and the overall attitude has improved,” Strait said. “I’m seeing good things from a bunch of people.”
Strait has been a member of Mott’s marching band since his freshman year and played the baritone before becoming drum major this year.
“It’s really like I was chosen to lead by example. It’s about trying to get everyone to do their best and go 100 percent,” Strait said.
In the past, the Mott drumline has competed in the MCBA Flight 1 State Finals, placed in the top three at the Michigan Color Guard Circuit Scholastic A state finals, and the Winter Guard International World Indoor Finals in Dayton, Ohio.
Mott’s theme this season is “Dance, Dance Evolution” and will cover three movements — tribal swing, 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, and disco and beyond.
This year, Waterford Kettering’s marching band has 90 student members, including 29 woodwind players, 27 brass instrument players, 20 drumline members, 12 color guard members, and two drum majors.
Scott Atkins, the director of bands at Kettering, said the Captains’ marching band is not a competition band, but does perform at several parades and festivals; and the band, drumline and color guard always perform as a whole.
Atkins serves as co-director of the Marching Captains along with Kathryn Stone, the director of bands at Pierce Middle School. Kyle Gundlach and Eric Ashby are this year’s drum majors, with Gundlach serving as a drum major for the second straight year.
The Captains’ schedule first has them performing at the Cedar Point Halloweekends Parade on Sunday, Sept. 23, followed by the Grand Ledge High School Marching Band Invitational on Oct. 3.
Kettering will then perform at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association District 4 Marching Band Festival at Royal Oak High School on Oct. 10, before hosting the Michigan State University Drumline and Color Guard in a clinic/performance at Kettering on Oct. 22.
The Captains will perform at the Pontiac Holiday Extravaganza Parade on Dec. 1 and then will head north next year to play at the Mackinac City Memorial Day Weekend Parade on May 25.
This year’s theme for Kettering is “2012: End of the World?” with the selections “Night Watch,” “Yesterday,” “How Far We’ve Come,” and “Thanks for the Memories.”
“Our band performs at every home (football) game halftime and we also do a 10-minute pre-game show before each game,” Atkins said.
In the past, Kettering’s accomplishments have included Division 1 ratings at past Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association marching band festivals, first-place at the 2010 Battle of the Bands at the America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit, and the 2009 President’s Trophy (first-place) at the Mackinac City Memorial Day Weekend Parade, as well as performances at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
“The Waterford Kettering band has a rich tradition going back to the opening of the high school in 1962. Our school songs (fight song and alma mater) were written by Kettering students,” Atkins said. “Our marching band is a voluntary marching band. Students in band classes at the high school can elect to march or may choose not to march.
“There are about 150 in the overall Kettering band program, with 90 in the marching band. Marching band is co-curricular and students and families pay to participate in the group.”
For more information, log onto the band’s website at www.waterford.k12.mi.us/kettering/band.
Staff writers Kevin Elliott and Michael Shelton contributed to this report.