WASHINGTON, Ill. (Sept. 10) — Such a gorgeous September day in central Illinois this was. The clouds that lingered from the morning rains cleared with several hours to spare, leaving only a bright sun and a strong crosswind on the football field here at Washington Community High School, where 25 marching bands once again trumpeted the official opening of the competitive marching band season in this state that has more than its fair share of national-class high school marching bands.
It’s still early in the season—this was the very first adjudicated performance this fall for any band here—so many of the field shows stopped a few movements short of the last or played the ending while standing in place. But what these groups left on the field—as good marching bands are known to do year after year—put the icing on the cake of this wondrous day.
At the end of the evening, just before awards were handed out, Washington Community drum majors Kathryn Longfellow and Rachel Baer marched the Panthers onto the field for their performance in exhibition. Their show, entitled “Step in Time,” is based on music from the Broadway musical Mary Poppins. It was just Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Professional recordings were made of the performances for educational purposes, according to Jim Tallman, director of bands and of this invitational festival. A team of about eight or 10 judges, a.k.a. reviewers or commentators or mentors, recorded comments for the bands on digital recorders while each show was in progress.
Bands will take these comments back and use them to improve their performance for the rest of the season. “Good evening, Washington Community High School. This is …, and I’m going to be reviewing your …,” one of the judges said as Washington’s band took the field.
Once in every life
Someone comes along
And you came to me
It was almost like a song
So spoke the music coming out of the Sound of Geneseo, the marching band from Geneseo High School, under the direction of Steve Scherer and Tony Hernandez and led on the field by drum majors Luke Johnson and Jordan Flies. The band’s show, entitled “The Music of the Geneseo Knights Drum and Bugle Corps, established 1966,” included in addition to Ronnie Milsap’s famous and melodic reflection on love, music that made the corps famous during its most competitive years, when it made Geneseo its home.
In Class 8A
The Marching Maroons from Champaign Central High School performed a show entitled “Concrete Jungle” under the direction of Jennifer and John Currey and Stephen Larson. Drum majors were Mallory Wentworth, Enddy Almonord, and Jillian Devine, but special mention goes to a jazz trumpet solo that ended with a powerful fist pump and brought the show home.
Morton High School brought a marching band to this show under the direction of Jeff Neavor and field leadership of drum majors Sarah Veatch, Alex Hischke, Reese Collins, and Jordan Dooley. Their show, entitled “Untamed,” is based in part on Michael Markowski’s “Instinctive Travels,” which was commissioned by Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin, but features original music by Craig Fitzpatrick, a staff member for the band.
As always, one of the most impressive elements of Morton’s shows—and I’ve seen them at least a dozen times over the years—is the attention to detail: a disciplined precision can be seen in how band members hold their horns, in the level of crescendo the group gives each and every phrase in the performance, in their body position as they start a handstand and kick their feet up in the air in worship of the plot’s main character.
The band from Normal West High School, directed by Lisa Preston and Ryan Budzinski, told a story entitled “Letters to Juliet,” including quite a bit of character acting. “Does he love me?” we can hear a speaker wondering aloud. The group is led on the field by drum majors Christine Breeden, Lewie Brown, and Micah Rhodes, and features music by A Great Big World, Martin Ellerby, Andrew Boysen Jr, Ryan George, and Taylor Swift.
In Class 3A
Bands at the Washington Invitational are classified by both school enrollment and the number of performers in the ensemble. Right in the middle comes Class 3A, including Tri-Valley High School from Downs, a winner of the National Blue Ribbon a few years back, with a marching band led by Dan Marcotte. Delaney O’Rourke, Matthew Manint, and Sydney Mullen led the band on the field in their performance of “Persis,” so named because the story is set in Persia.
This also gives us a chance to demonstrate just how windy it was in the afternoon, as bands tried to keep shakos, thrown flags and rifles, props, and other costume elements from blowing away or make a quick adjustment to their routine when they did.
The show is a huge fundraiser for Washington’s music programs, and many bands host festivals, though not many have the long history of Washington’s and fewer still have as many bands. Most of the bands would be lost without the dedication of band parents who not only raise money for school music programs but also help out at the performances.
Eureka’s marching band is directed by Todd Stalter and led on the field by drum majors Emma Wierenga and Parker Williams. Their show is entitled “Shine,” and as much as that title implies otherwise, the show took on an almost spooky air.
Finally in this class, about 60 band members from Streator Township High School entertained the audience with numbers from the Broadway hit Wicked. The band is led on the field by drum majors Brittany Harper, Alma Murphy, and Sam Stout, and directed by Jamie Kotovsky.
In Class 1A
Bement High School, directed by Julie Reynolds, is led on the field by drum majors Zac Wright and Melissa Lincicum. They performed—and acted out—music from various James Bond movies, including For Your Eyes Only and Live and Let Die.
With music that included “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” Dwight Township High School entertained the crowd with a show entitled “Into the Jungle.” Directed by Justin Gund and led on the field by drum major Maddi Groves, the group’s 40 or so performers used the occasional stage prop to illustrate for the audience and the judges the “Circle of Life.”
Tango anyone? Using music from Bizet’s opera Carmen, the marchers from El Paso-Gridley High School, directed by Alyssa Arkin and led on the field by drum major Emily Roberts, danced on air and, at the same time, brought opera once again to the marching field.
Morrison High School, directed by Josh Youngs and led here by drum major Morgan Stuhlman, performed music by the rock group “Queen,” including “Under Pressure” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
“I wouldn’t buy that ring yet,” an announcer tells a young Marching Timberwolf from Okaw Valley High School in Bethany. He has just been rejected, you see, during a show that asks the question, “Will Love Run Out?” The small band is led on the field by drum major Corey Clark and directed by Theresa Colclasure.
In Class 2A
The band from Farmington Central High School won best percussion in Class 2A, as the Golden Wave spread out on the field and filled the air with spy movie music, including the main “James Bond” theme music as well as the theme from Mission Impossible. The band was led on the field by drum majors Anna Adams, Taylor Simpson, and Kaitlyn LeBron and directed by Fred Herink.
Olympia High School’s band brought music from French impressionist composer Claude Debussy to the marching field, along with its whole-tone fog. Although the show is still incomplete at this point, music from Star Wars: The Force Awakens is expected to be included this season. The band is directed by Kyle Brubaker and led on the field by drum major Adriana Bagby.
The Marching Warriors from Watseka Community High School waved flags and musically professed the virtues of American democracy in a show entitled “Let Freedom Ring.” On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the hijacking of four commercial aircraft and the killing of more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, most of them Americans, the performance here was led by drum major Kristyn Long and directed by Erik Parmenter. It included these movements: Liberty, Ingenuity, Sacrifice, and Freedom.
In Class 4A
The Marching Raiders from East Peoria High School, directed by Adam Schneblin and led on the field by drum majors Ali Capati and Kristin Heyder, performed a show entitled “Hiraeth.” The word has no direct English translation and is from the Welsh language. It means something akin to “homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. It is a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness, or an earnest desire for the Wales of the past,” according to Wikipedia. Hence the doors and keys to unlock those memories of days gone by.
The Redbird Marching Band from Metamora Township High School performed a show entitled “The Night Circus,” led by drum majors Brenna Rulis and Lauren Schmillen. The group is directed by Zachary Hilligoss. “Don’t you love farce?” we could hear in the stands, as the musical selections included Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” as a haunting flute solo.
With a show entitled “Fantasy on a Hymn,” the Marching Indians from Pontiac Township High School reminded the audience of American composer Aaron Copland who, among so many other composers throughout the years, set the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in an orchestral work. The band is directed by Corey Brown and Scot Schickel and led on the field by drum majors Andrea Araujo, Aubrey Gill, and Noah Schrock.
In Class 5A
With sometimes animated character acting, a speaker brought images of both sweet dreams and nightmares into the show “Dreams” from Pekin Community High School. But a flute quartet stole the show with music. The Marching Dragons are directed by Karli McCann and led on the field by drum majors Tyler Thomas, Rosie Coltrin, and Meredith Onken.
The Marching Panthers from United Township High School in East Moline entertained the crowd with a show entitled “Flight,” which made use of ramps for both rifle-throwers and a mellophone soloist. The group is directed by Mike Wawrzynski and led on the field by drum majors Chandra Lynn, Isabel Trulson, and Autumn Campbell.
In other classes
The Marching Grey Ghosts from Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillicothe bring a marching unit to the invitational festival here that performed a show entitled “In the Cloud,” with the precise definition of the word “cloud” being somewhat flexible. Music included Frank Valli and Bob Gaudio’s “Can’t Keep My Eyes Off of You” and Tan Dun’s “The Internet Symphony.” The band is directed by Matt Chapman and led on the field by drum majors Kesley Bowen, Desiree Wilson, and Ceciley Eckhoff.
The band from Canton performed a show entitled “Imagine.” Imagine a bicyclist performing in a marching band show. Just imagine the possibility. The band is directed by Andrew Speiden and led on the field by drum majors Taylor VanTine, Lance Carter, and Elliyah Sale.
In “Red Riding Hood,” the Marching Eagles from Dunlap High School tell the famous fairy tale about a wolf who impersonates a little girl’s grandmother. Under the direction of Jason Shea and Jill Potts, the band is conducted on the field by students Brittany Holshouser, Elisa Jensen, and Emma Windsor.
Thanks to a sax solo that stands as the most unforgettable individual performance of the evening—for me, anyway—the Marching Rockets from Limestone Community High School in Bartonville, under the direction of Andy Empey and Stevi Rzeszutko, transported us, with both graphic stage props and well-executed music, along the trade route known as the Silk Road. The band is led on the field by drum majors Katie Haage, Ellery Gordon, and Mikey Fisher.