Reports out of Normal, Ill., are that Eureka High School has been named the Class 1A champion at the State of Illinois Invitational Marching Band Championships on the campus of Illinois State University. The school, located just outside Peoria, is probably best known for being in the college home of former President Ronald Reagan.
The band’s show, entitled “Geometries: Solids, Contours, and Angles,” has a very special meaning to students, who are performing it in memory (and honor) of Alyssa Burns, a Eureka High School student killed in a car crash last summer. Director Todd Stalter said this:
She played xylophone in the pit percussion, and oboe in concert band, and was going to be a senior this fall. In the days after her accident, I felt very strongly that the band needed some sort of concrete musical connection to Alyssa in order to work through the healing process, giving them the chance to express their feelings about Alyssa through the music they play. During her funeral, I was so moved by the simplistic yet awesome expression of the cantor chanting the 23rd Psalm to recitation tones that I decided to use those notes in the show in some way, since her life’s journey was filled with physical hurdles and trials over which she triumphed through faith and proud determination. There is a point in “Angles” where we will halt and make her initials on the field while playing those melodic tones, which starts in the bells and works its way through the entire band as it builds to that point, and then immediately after that is a literal quotation of 16 bars from last year’s opener, “Purple,” which represents her favorite color, and is music she played with us. There are other things in the show that reference her memory, but those things are only for the kids to know, so they can keep some things personal to them. So, our performances are going to be very emotional this fall, but also very good for the band’s healing process, I believe. Whether we win or finish last wherever we go, none of that matters; it’s all about honoring Alyssa’s time with us. I know that composing the music has helped me cope with her passing.
The group received special caption trophies in the class as well, including best musical performance, best crowd appeal, and best general effect.
The 84 members of the Marching Tigers from Herscher High School, led by directors Rachael Dickman and Amanda McCabe, and on the field by drum majors Chris Bogusch, Leah Kambic, and Danielle Schmitz, took second place in the smallest class at the statewide invitational and received recognition for best visual performance in the class.
And coming in third place in Class 1A at the competition were the 122 Marching Grey Ghosts from Illinois Valley Central High School. The group is led on the field by drum majors Lauren Farris, Emily Pence, and Kallie Williams.
The movements of IVC’s show include “Evolution,” “Serenity,” and “Jubilation.” Director Dan Dietrich picked the music and wrote the drill and then relied on his assistant director, Matt Chapman, to make it all pretty by cleaning up the details and adding the extras. “He is our LaGassi who adds the Bam!” Mr. Dietrich said.
Dan Dietrich is retiring at the end of this school year, so this performance will be his last as director of the Grey Ghosts. Over 30 years of teaching, the school’s music program has had its ups and downs, no doubt. However, one accomplishment IVC can hold high has been the level of participation in the music program, and particularly in the marching band.
This year, 122 students are participating in marching band. The school’s enrollment is 733, meaning that about one in six students at the school will be on the field at several competitions and home football games this year. It also means they started in June working on this show—as a unit, a team of friends, communicating constantly with others on the field to be where they needed to be exactly when they needed to be there, taking their cues from the drum majors, and conveying the show’s artistry to fans in the stands.
And as their theme suggests, seeing the work of art evolve on the practice and performance field brings jubilation from knowing you have helped students develop into leaders and serenity from knowing you are leaving things in good hands, the hands of friends.