Illinois State Marching Invite: Class 6A

The Class 6A champion for the State of Illinois Invitational Marching Band Festival at Illinois State University in Normal is Lake Park High School from Roselle. The Marching Lancers, with their show entitled “Elements of Balance,” also took home the special caption trophies for best music performance and best visuals in the class.

Naperville North High School took second place in Class 6A and tied with Lake Park for the best general effect in the class. Victor J. Andrew High School from south suburban Tinley Park took third place in the class.

Naperville North’s director, Dan Moore, describes himself as a “megalomaniacal control freak” when it comes to spending his entire summer writing the music—including percussion parts, he points out—and the drill for the band’s show. Paulette Rife, whom Moore has known and worked with since their drum corps days in 1982, does the color guard work.

The group is an all-volunteer activity, like football, volleyball, and other sports. No time is used during the school day for marching band practice, but rather, it’s all done after school and at a summer band camp. The frequency of all-volunteer marching units is much greater in larger schools in the Chicago suburbs than it is at smaller schools in rural areas, though.

But unlike football and volleyball, there is no true “state title” for marching band, a fact that sits just fine with Mr. Moore.

“IHSA has not shown enough vested interest in developing the music component,” he told me. “It’s to the point where many schools don’t even attend the existing Solo & Ensemble and Organizational contests.”

Other directors across the state agree with this position. For example, at nearby Neuqua Valley High School, also in Naperville, fine arts chair Charles Staley said he thinks an official state champ might defeat the purpose of marching band.

“Marching Band is a leadership training activity,” he said. “The musical experience is secondary to the team building marching band promotes. Competitions have their place in a marching band season, but naming a state champion promotes those programs that place too much of an emphasis on marching band. Administrators glom on to state champions and would push music programs to WIN. This would mean more time, money, and energy on the marching band activity. Marching Band should not be the basis for a music program.”

And that wasn’t the only reason directors don’t think a state championship could happen in Illinois. Aside from being too much work, they pointed out differences in marching style and difficulties with finding a fair way to judge the wide diversity of programs.

For example, Yolandus Douglas Jr., the 17-year band director at Rich South High School, says a true championship series would have to take into account the show style of marching typical of his band and many others like it. And David Nommensen, Fine Arts Division chair at Lemont High School, says whoever would be in charge of setting judging standards would have a difficult time deciding between the collegiate or Big 10 marching style and the drum corps style.

“Good luck to the person that wants to fight the battle in the state to determine which is more widely used,” he said.

On the other hand, Morton High School band director Jeff Neavor said he would recommend an official state champion.

“In many ways, the lack of a state champion prevents marching band from having legitimacy with athletic directors and coaches,” he said. For instance, “bowling has a championship. I don’t think IHSA should be the governing body, but I think a true title should be determined and recognized within Illinois.”

Others agree, seeing some benefit in a statewide competition.

“It would give insight as to the progress a band program is making year to year since there would be consistent judging practices across the state,” said Chris Hayden, band/choir director at Massac County High School. “It would also help validate the importance of a marching band program and music in the school when administration can see that the band made it to regionals, semi-finals, and/or finals at a state level.”

All directors I interviewed about this subject, though, agreed that marching band promotes leadership skills and people skills, as students learn to work together to achieve a common goal of a great performance.

Retiring IVC director Dan Dietrich said he would love to see a true state title for marching bands some day, especially if it would help standardize some of the judging rules for competitions.

“Too much control of this activity rests in the hands of a few individuals from large schools,” he said. “Rules change and judging concerns change without input from the people they affect.”

But the opposition to a state title seems to rule the majority.

Tim Page, director at Mt. Zion High School, says, “Marching bands vary in style and content to such extremes, there is no standard that would be fair to all bands.”

And Kelly Goldberg at Springfield High School points out, “There is too much disparity between the suburbs and downstate schools that are of the same size or class.”

An actual tournament might also detract from other long-running events for marching bands in the state.

“I think there are enough competitions in the state that allow for competition,” says David Bean, director at Morrison High School.

Nine states in the U.S. name an official champion, either through the state’s high school athletic association or the music educators association or some combination thereof. The states are Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas, and Wyoming. There may be more, but on an initial search of Internet sites, this is all I found. Several other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, take part in what is called the “Tournament of Bands,” but the organization is not sanctioned by any state school association and charges fees or dues.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.