INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the 11th 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.
Voxitatis talked with five students from the Jenison High School Wind Symphony, the top band at a school that often finds itself in the direct path of snow bands coming off Lake Michigan. The group gave a performance on January 28 with the district’s sixth-grade band that reflected a community that has risen to the challenge of superior fine arts programming in the public schools.
Students in this suburban community about 10 miles west of Grand Rapids have a sparkling place to perform: the $16-million Jenison Center for the Arts, built just a few years ago. It provided a convenient space for our interview, mistakenly called the “small” dressing room.
“This was one of our glaring needs, not only in the school district but in the community,” MI-Biz quoted Jenison Superintendent Tom TenBrink as saying. “For years, we’ve had to rent space from area churches for our theater and music programming. Our students deserve better.”
And better they got, as the community voted to increase taxes in 2011, providing a $33-million bond issue to upgrade the school’s infrastructure and technology, buy a few buses, and build this 1,200-seat performing arts center at a time when many schools are scaling back on fine arts offerings in favor of STEM upgrades.
“We haven’t seen a lot of performing arts centers and things like pools lately,” the trade magazine quoted Josh Symanski, vice president of business development for Triangle, the facility’s general contractor, as saying. “It will probably take a while before those come back and people are willing to support them with their tax dollars.”
But the Center for the Arts isn’t only for music and drama. “This facility is going to be a testimonial for all who are looking at our area, and [it] shows that we are looking forward,” Mr TenBrink said. “I believe it will be an incredible shot in the arm for our community.”
Ms Grant’s performance marked the third “Candid Conversation,” designed also to honor the legacy of former First Lady Betty Ford, who comes from Michigan. Mr Klawiter’s town hall meeting honored the democratic ideal of free speech: the small business owner from nearby Grandville, who has said he won’t serve openly gay customers, was interrupted frequently by outbursts from the audience, WZZM-TV (ABC affiliate) reported.
Another kind of bond good bands bank on
The number of students enrolled at the high school has decreased over the last 10 years, going from about 1,600 in 2005 to about 1,400 today. The percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals has gone up over that same time, though the school’s eligibility, now at about 20 percent, is still about half the statewide average.
This year, 157 students participated in the marching band, including the color guard. About 20 of them are part of the band’s leadership team, explained senior Hailee Jackson, the trumpet section leader.
Those students “remain after rehearsal every Tuesday for a meeting,” she said. “The directors and students talk together about what to improve for the night or what to work on for the rest of the week. We talk about the goals that we have for the band.”
The leadership team “also gives band members another place to go if a problem needs to get solved,” added Jim Groelsma, a junior and the trombone section leader, “like if a section leader isn’t around to handle a situation.”
Mr Groelsma also serves as a “band buddy,” offering to provide a private lesson once a week to a sixth-grade trombone player. “This one-on-one mentoring helps sixth graders build musical confidence and ability,” junior high band director Anne Gembis said at the concert. Her large band mingled in performance with the high school’s wind symphony, which is led by David Zamborsky, who also directs the marching band.
It’s fun for middle schoolers to practice and perform in concert with good high school musicians, and the band buddy program is one of the special things about this school music community that keeps participation in Jenison’s marching band high. More than 10 percent of the students at the school go out for marching band.
This recruiting also helps Jenison bring their show—and its big sound, which is what makes it so exciting for audiences—to festivals around the state and country year after year. Their show this year, presented in semifinal performance at the Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis, was entitled “Cold-hearted: The Rise of the Snow Queen.”
Michigan offers 2 circuits for competitive marching band
Every fall, Jenison hosts two competitions for marching bands from across the state: one in the “Scholastic” circuit, and one in the Michigan Competing Band Association, or MCBA. The MCBA is the top circuit, and the winner of that series in each of four enrollment-based classes is considered the state champion.
Competitions for the MCBA circuit happen throughout the state, but the MCBA-sanctioned show at Jenison is the biggest. Last year, Jenison hosted bands from 46 schools, compared to 40 at the MCBA finals competition, and Jenison’s band students spent about 15 hours volunteering in countless ways to make the show the success that it was.
“It’s largely student-run,” Mr Groelsma said. “Mostly it’s the Jenison band kids out there, guiding bands around, fixing stuff, doing admissions.”
And all of that is on top of two performances the marching band gives during the day, which runs from before 8 in the morning to after about 11 PM.
Jenison’s performance this fall, whether in exhibition at one of their two home shows or as a semifinalist at Grand Nationals, transcended the competitiveness of high school championships and moved into the realm of timeless entertainment and musicality.
The show starts out with a darkish theme. Color guard members, dressed as sprites, discover they have special powers to freeze people. In the second part, the horn line has a tendency to hold one note and stand in the same spot for a while, building the drama but freezing the plot.
“Eventually throughout this process, there’s one color guard member who finds out she had bigger powers and could control the rest of them,” said Andre VandenBerg, a junior and one of the band’s drum majors.
“She kind of enslaves everybody,” explained Drew Moles, a senior drum major. “Part 3 is her freezing and unfreezing certain parts of the band. It fits with the music because the music is, like, sporadic.”
Music intensity builds in the fourth movement. The broken visuals, which highlighted John Mackey’s “The Frozen Cathedral” in Part 3, coalesce in a final movement that’s vibrant with light, luminosity, life, and intense energy.
“At the very end, there’s a big crown set, and it’s really cool,” Mr VandenBerg said. “That’s the one thing I remember the most about the show. The music has a huge impact point, and the crown rotates. Then the queen walks up to the throne, has her scepter, and lights up.”
“It spoke to me,” Mr Moles added.
Artificial turf required for MCBA contests
After a certain date, all the competitions in the MCBA circuit have to take place on fields with artificial turf. No natural grass competitions are allowed, according to the MCBA 2011-2012 Rule Book.
“That could be because it’s in Michigan,” Ms Jackson pointed out. “Our weather is great. In 2012, there were a couple months when we would be marching in the snow, and it’s freezing. Our instruments would freeze.”
“People’s valves would be stuck,” said Joey Essenburg, one of the band’s drum majors. “Or they’d pull them out, and there’d be ice.”
Bands of America doesn’t specifically require competitions to take place on artificial turf or in indoor stadiums. Last fall, though, every competition was marched on artificial turf, which is becoming much more common in high schools, even those that aren’t in Michigan, where freezing is a big part of both winter and this memorable marching band show.
— James English (@EnglishJames14) February 29, 2016
Voxitatis would like to thank the Music For All organization, particularly Eric Martin, president and CEO, and 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.