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Dizzy Goshen band stands proud on national stage

INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the seventh of a series of 35 stories about high school marching bands that performed at the Bands of America Grand National Championships on Thursday through Saturday, November 12–14, 2015.

If you see an RV on the road or in a trailer park in America, there’s about a 50-percent chance it was built in Elkhart County, Indiana. And if you see the marching bands that reach the Indiana state finals in the most competitive class, there’s a 100-percent chance the families of one of those bands came from dozens of nations across the globe, especially where Spanish is the native tongue, because the people at Goshen High School have welcomed them.


Goshen High School performs at Grand Nationals, Nov. 13, 2015 (Voxitatis)

Ninth-Grade at Goshen H.S.
Source: Ind. Dept. of Ed.

The Goshen community, about 30 miles from South Bend, saw a need and asked how they could help the growing working-class Hispanic population, which is 51 percent at the high school this year, up slightly from last year, according to statistics from the Indiana Department of Education.

Although two of the 10 bands that reached the Class A finals this year have African-American populations higher than 35 percent—Ben Davis and Lawrence Central, both in Indianapolis—the Hispanic population at those two schools is 19.3 and 13.6 percent. Lake Central in St John also has a Hispanic enrollment of 13.6 percent, but none of the other top-10 marching bands this year even break into double-digit Hispanic enrollment.

When band director Tom Cox came to Goshen High School 15 years ago, he said he would sit in the band room and see kids translating for other kids. Max Mault, who’s now the head director at Goshen Middle School, was at the high school back then.

“Max did everything he could, because he loved kids,” Mr Cox said. “He went to the superintendent and said, ‘I need more but I can’t afford it.’ And our superintendent at the time, an amazing visionary, said, ‘No kid will ever be turned away because of money.’ So we went out to the pawn shops, and we put ads in the paper for people to give us their old instruments.”

Refurbishing and our first musical instruments

And so after some repairs and other adjustments, the instruments were fit for performance. And that’s exactly how Goshen’s students have been using them ever since.

Bands of America, which is a program of the nonprofit Music For All, announced the first “Advocacy In Action” award at Grand Nationals this year. The recognition went to the Country Music Association Foundation and its Music Makes Us program, based in Nashville.

The CMA Foundation focuses on improving and sustaining music education programs everywhere, “inspiring a love for music in people around the world through the charitable giving of the country music community.” The foundation has given more than $11 million to organizations to enhance the lives of students through music.

It has a special presence in the public schools of Nashville. Since 2006, more than $7.5 million has been donated to support an effort to strengthen music education in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. Grant funds from the CMA Foundation have been used to purchase instruments and music equipment and to build and equip an instrument repair shop.

“I don’t have to convey to teachers at schools who are here how valuable this experience is,” said Eric Martin, president and CEO of MFA, in an interview with Voxitatis. But, “there are so many kids that aren’t here, and I wish we could find a way to allow them to have that experience.”

By holding up the CMA Foundation as the first example of advocacy in action, MFA is confirming that providing and maintaining good musical instruments for kids is a worthwhile endeavor. They aren’t the first ones to say that, as Mr Cox and the staff at Goshen High School gave legs to those efforts long ago, but MFA is among the first groups to give recognition for these programs a national voice.

Last month, the CMA Foundation accepted a $1 million donation from country music star Darius Rucker. “Having access to an instrument in an environment that encourages creative expression is such a powerful thing,” he said. “A defining moment in my life was when my mother gave me my first guitar—I can honestly say it completely changed my life. In that moment, a new-found passion and creativity were born where skills like writing and poetry took on a new role.”

Elizabeth Rieth, a junior at Goshen and a mellophone player in the marching band, said she plans to major in journalism when she gets to college. She said she’s not sure yet what role music will play, but she showed no hesitation in saying it’ll have some role in her life.

“I just got my own French horn,” she said. “I want to play French horn as a hobby throughout my entire life, and I wouldn’t do that if it weren’t for [the band] program.”

What having musical instruments enables for students

Goshen’s marching band traveled to a competition every Saturday this fall. They brought their instruments and the props, all built by parents, Ms Rieth said:

I love to see how involved the band parents are, and I love to see that they cheer us on. At every competition we go to, you’ll always see band parents on the sideline and in the stands yelling out, “Goshen!”

Marching band is my family. I love them all, and I can tell all of them anything. We’re always there for each other. I wouldn’t have had as near as much fun this school year without marching band.

The competitions necessitate long bus rides and, occasionally, sleeping on air mattresses on band room floors in out-of-town high schools, like Decatur Central in Indianapolis.

“I like the long bus rides,” said Katarina Antal, a junior at Goshen and a flutist in the marching band. “We randomly burst into song; we play games. There’s so much I love about marching band that life wouldn’t be the same without it.

“It changes your life. You just meet so many different people, so many different personalities. That just makes it great, and it changes the way you look at life.”

Goshen’s band students spent a total of 353 hours in rehearsals this year for their eight-minute show, not including travel or random moments that arise. Ms Antal kept track:

I love the music for marching band, too. For a whole year, we kind of dedicate our lives to that music. We constantly sing the music, or you’ll just kind of hear it and say, “That’s our 2012 show,” or something like that. And just like, performing the show is wonderful. There’s no other feeling, especially when you walk onto the field and look up at the huge stadium around you. You think, wow, I just performed here.

The show and the show of community support

Those performances in grand stadiums wouldn’t be possible without a whole team of directors, including Rocco Duranti and Josh Kaufman. Or without the fundraising band parents do to help support the needs of a band in which about two-thirds of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

The Indiana Department of Education didn’t hand out letter grades to schools in 2008 but went back and computed what the letter grades would have been so people could compare schools from year to year. In 2008, IDOE gave Goshen a “D” grade, and in 2012, the school received a “C,” a year or so after the marching band was named the Indiana State School Marching Association’s Class A runner-up.

Following that performance in 2010, Mayor Allan Kauffman of Goshen presented the band with the key to the city. Two years later, the band was the state runner-up again, continuing a tradition filled with pride. They’ve qualified for the state finals more than 20 times since 1987.

Musical selections they brought to a semifinal performance this year at the Bands of America Grand National Championships, in a show entitled “Vertigo,” were arranged by William Pitts and Derrick Shannon: “Equus” by Eric Whitacre, “Scene D’Amour” by Bernard Herrmann (from the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo), and “Satric Dances (Movement No 3)” by Norman Dello Joio.

The band was led on the field by drum majors Sydney Cox (Mr Cox’s daughter), Ashley Taylor, Evan Krabill, and Jesse Torres, who were responsible for setting the tempos of the show, including the fastest opener the band has ever performed, a dizzying 176-beat per minute drill with forward, backward, and sideways marching at a pace of almost three steps per second.

Voxitatis is grateful to the Music For All organization, particularly to Eric Martin, president and CEO, and to Kathryn Reinhardt, marketing coordinator, for their assistance in developing this series of stories and for their hospitality while we were in Indianapolis covering what is, by far, the largest high school marching band event in the US.

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

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