INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14, 2009)—I grew up in Tinley Park, Ill., which is only about five or 10 miles away from Chicago Heights, home of Marian Catholic High School. When I was in a high school band, about 150 years ago, the Marian band was great, and they continue that tradition here at Lucas Oil Stadium with execution on the marching field that is known around the country.
The band’s show, entitled “The Nightingale: A Parable of Gilded Cages,” has four movements: “Heaven and Earth,” “Three Japanese Dances,” “The Nightingale,” and “The Miraculous Mandarin.”
Music is by Kitaro, Bernard Rogers, Igor Stravinsky, and Belá Bartók, but even though the music is technically demanding, playable only by the best of high school musicians, it wouldn’t be Marian Catholic without visuals and general effect that set the band on fire.
They start the show lying down, in a formation that previews some of the Kanji characters the group has integrated into their drill.
A geisha is trapped by the expectations others place on her because of her beauty. She dances, paints on a smile, and even tries to escape. At one point, a grand pause in the music, strengthened by echoes in the stadium of Marian’s large percussion, yields to a dramatic flag toss and builds a climax of desperation as she looks for a way out.
At another point, she’s trapped in the middle of a circle, chained to the walls of a prison by strings of marchers. The show is in constant motion, and two of the most engaging segments come with the geisha inside prison walls that expand, keeping her trapped at the center. They also rotate, creating a sense of vertigo, and move down the field:
A red ribbon on the field represents walls of this prison as well, as she tries in vain to break through. When she finds the way out—which she discovers can only come from within herself—we hear in the narration, “… free from perception … free from restriction … free to be my true self.”
We applaud the work of Howard Reich and his employer, the Chicago Tribune, for running an unprecedented series of three articles about the Marian Catholic High School Marching Band. We encourage you to support this excellent coverage of the artistry and the effort that go into marching band shows by purchasing back issues of the paper for Nov. 8, 12, and 16, 2009.
The Chicago Tribune Gift Store offers print back issues for up to 90 days. You can inquire about a particular single copy back issue by calling the store at (312) 222-3080. Associates there are always happy to help.
The biggest barrier to participation
Copyright issues from Bands of America often cause headaches for directors and, in the worst case, prevent bands from taking part in the competition. Let’s be clear about this: if schools buy the music, including the score and all the individual parts, from the publisher, they can perform it. They don’t need any additional “permission” for that.
But when a video or audio recording of the performance is made, the rules change. Now, if the company that makes that video sells it, that requires additional permission. Most authors and composers grant this permission happily, sometimes with customary fees that are often waived for schools, but the process can be long and expensive.
Since there’s no way for bands to opt out of being a part of the video company’s production, all bands that participate have to provide documentation that they have this extra permission. Many schools stay away from Bands of America, therefore, not because they’re breaking the copyright laws themselves, but because they don’t have time to chase after permissions so a video production company, which has been awarded a no-bid contract by Bands of America, can make a profit off their performance.
Members of the reporting press are generally opposed to these contracts, which impede our ability to tell the story properly. Have you noticed all the microphones in the way of some of our best shots?
A case is now making its way through the federal courts against the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association, which may involve similar organizations, like Bands of America, that act “in service” to America’s schools. The suit, brought by a television station and joined by the Associated Press, charges WIAA with impeding the operation of a free press in covering the schools.
Yes, it’s largely about money, but not just the money of organizations like a television station in Wisconsin or the Chicago Tribune, which last year refused to agree to terms the Illinois High School Association tried to impose on the Tribune’s sale of photographs from school sports championships. The IHSA was acting to protect a company that had been awarded a no-bid contract to photograph the games.
But it’s also about your tax money, which supports these schools. Responsible news organizations are the only independent resource for looking into how organizations that get money from schools are using it. For the press, the for-profit sale of photographs is small compared to the responsibility of reporting newsworthy events from inside our schools and the organizations to which the schools send money.
Marian Catholic High School, established in 1958, brings a marching band to the Bands of America Grand National Championships, directed by Greg Bimm, with assistance from Bobby Lambert. Drum majors are Diamond Murphy, Samantha Greene, and Kaitlyn Van Tuyl. The school is a Catholic, coeducational high school with a tradition of study, prayer, community, and preaching. Marian Catholic students “seek truth, exhibit personal responsibility, cultivate their individual talents, and demonstrate ethical leadership and Christian service,” the school’s Web site says.
Marian Catholic is the only school that has been named grand national champion seven times. The closest school has won only three times, so for what it’s worth—which isn’t much, since scores are forgotten shortly after the contests are over—that record is not likely to fall. As other bands come onto the scene, as they find ways to overcome the obstacles we have reported and make their way to Indianapolis, as they incorporate new trends and new technology into their shows to make them even more effective, and as they find inspiration to continue to improve their productions, we look forward to many, many champions.
To tie this sentiment into Marian Catholic’s traditions, I note that Mary, Jesus’ mother, after whom the school is named, said, “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Things, plural, she said. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble; he has filled the hungry with good things,” she continued (from the Bible, Luke, Chapter 1).
I think Marian Catholic has the “humble” part down: rather than sleeping in hotels, they bunk in a middle school gymnasium near the stadium to save money.
And however humble future champions may be, their schools are still part of the fabric of America, and their student-musicians may one day take their fair shot at this title. Much work remains, some of it already in progress, toward removing barriers to participation in arts education. I try here to encourage that participation by writing about newsworthy activity, information for which we are all hungry, regarding but a small piece of what our schools endeavor to achieve.
It has been my pleasure to cover the semi-finals of the Bands of America Grand National Championships for these past 35 days. The people I have talked with have brought great insights. They have impressed me, once again, with their grasp of just how many things have to come together in order to make each of these shows—and these programs—work right. I remain in their debt.
From Indianapolis, these have been the reports of the Chicago Voxitatis … signing off, and wishing everyone a merry Christmas. Thanks for reading; this blog is on hiatus.