‘You Find Yourself Striving to be Greater at Something’

Grads Say Band Taught Teamwork, Perseverance

Noah Miller comes from a family of trumpet players

Noah Miller and Heather Price, both 2016 district graduates, are members of the Western Michigan University Marching Bronco Band and got to play at the Cotton Bowl game on Jan. 2. Here’s what they had to say about what they’ve learned from band besides playing an instrument; why they say it’s important to have arts programs like band in school; and what their Cotton Bowl adventure was really like.

You don’t have to be a music major to play in a college band

Noah and Heather credit their high school music teacher, Ray Rickert, for pushing them to try out for a college band. And showing students they can be in a college band and how music can be important the rest of their lives is exactly what Rickert wants.

“The most important thing for me is to communicate to our students that they can continue to play in college without being a music major, and to help them find those opportunities at their chosen college.”

Rickert also stresses to students that performing music in college is not just for music majors.

“Most college marching bands are made up of an overwhelming majority of non-music majors,” he says.

“In addition to the marching bands, there are many other concert and jazz ensembles on college campuses that are comprised mostly (and even designed for) non-music majors. The most important thing for me is to communicate to our students that they can continue to playin college without being a music major and to help them find those opportunities at their chosen college.”

Each year, he says, it’s his goal to encourage band students to continue playing after they leave high school. “To accomplish this, we watch a lot of college marching band videos and have alumni come back and talk about their college playing experiences.”

Rickert likes to talk about the memorable opportunities he and TK students have had because of being in a college band. “We’ve had students perform in numerous bowl games over the past several years, play for MAC (Mid-American Conference), college playoffs and national championship games, travel to NCAA tourneys with college basketball teams and even tour Europe! This past fall, the kids in the GVSU band performed for Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”

Background

Noah joined band in sixth grade “along with most everybody at TK,” he says. He plays the trumpet, which is a family tradition. “My grandpa, dad and sisters all played trumpet at some point in their life.” Besides the marching band, he played in the jazz and symphonic bands at high school. He said he knew for a long time that he wanted to go to Western Michigan University for music education. “Last year, when we opened our sixth-grade time capsules, it said in the ‘my future’ section ‘I will attend WMU for a degree in music education.’ I was surprised that my sixth-grade self was looking forward that much.”

“The values they teach are significant, and the impact they have is symbolic of what could become an incredible movement in whatever direction we take ourselves.” — TK grad and WMU band member Heather Price on the impact of the arts in K-12 education

Heather played clarinet in high school because her mother told her she had to. It also was the instrument her older brother played, so “that’s what I got.” She said she hated it at first, but grew to love it and now wouldn’t play anything else as her primary instrument. She started considering playing in a college band in her senior year because marching band meant so much to her. She plans to pursue secondary education, with a double major in English and Spanish.

Best thing about band in high school

Heather: “I like the feeling of family. I love the way that every single person matters. It’s also how we all have to work together to create an atmosphere for a stadium; whether it’s on the field or playing in the stands, everyone plays their heart out so the fans can enjoy the music as much as we do.”

Benefits of being in band

Heather: “Some of the most prominent lessons I have learned are teamwork, work ethic and attitude. We have to work as a unit; whether it’s a band of 50 or 300. Having a work ethic is what keeps you on top of learning what you need to know: the correct marching style, your dots in drills, the music and the new shows every week or two. Our band director, Dr. David W. Montgomery, has a saying that I will take with me the rest of my life: ‘Keep your head up.’ It isn’t just some repeatable phrase that sounds good and can be nice to hear. What this phrase means is that you are always working, performing, doing something that requires effort. And you should always be giving your best effort. Even if you are having the worst day of your life, you still have some amount of effort to give. So give it. Regardless of how you may be feeling in that exact moment. Because it’s when you keep your head up that you can continue to expect the best from yourself.”

Noah: “I think band builds character, especially in the people who truly care about it. You find yourself striving to begreater at something, and that can be applied to so many other things in life. The people you connect with in band is also incredible. No matter what band, it turns into a family.”

Western Michigan University Marching Band member Heather Price
Western Michigan University Marching Band member Heather Price

Most impressive/cool thing about the Cotton Bowl trip

Heather: “The same thing that’s impressed me about college marching band from the beginning: how we are treated. In all honesty, high school marching band is not normally respected by non-musicians, and specifically the very hardcore athletes. As soon as I started college marching band, I noticed a 100 percent difference. If you wear BMB (Bronco Marching Band) clothing around campus, people will stop and ask, ‘Are you in the marching band? That’s so cool!’ (Also) the amount of respect from Dr. (John) Dunn (WMU president) and (his) peers. The football team and P.J. Fleck (former football team coach) are incredible in their support. It makes the experience that much better, and it made the trip the same, because we were treated as a group of individuals who matter to the football program. They all make the marching band feel like a valued part of the program, and that’s the best thing anyone could ask for out of a trip, but also out of a university.”

What it’s like being in a college band

Heather: “Western Michigan University Bronco Marching Band is an incredible program that teaches you the true value of attitude, hard work, friendship and perseverance. In this semester alone, I have played in the heat, pouring rain, sleet, below freezing. I have also played in Ford Field and AT&T Stadium.”

Noah: “There is something about being in a band that is not only appreciated by tens of thousands of people every weekend, but is also loved by the university as a whole. It’s just something to you have to experience to understand.”

Music in schools

Heather: “I honestly believe that there needs to be a revival (of arts), and renewal of how schools, society, this nation, views the importance of expression through dance, music, theatre, art. The values they teach are significant, and the impact they have is symbolic of what could become an incredible movement in whatever direction we take ourselves.”

Noah Miller fired up at the Cotton Bowl
Noah Miller fired up at the Cotton Bowl

Cutting back on arts at schools

Heather: “I think it’s actually the worst thing you can do to a body of developing teenagers. While athletics can teach us discipline and routine, and maybe even prove therapeutic for stress or anger, the most important element of the arts is the expression, the inclusiveness. You connect to other people. In marching band specifically, everyone matters. And the incredible thing to include in that is that everyone is very different. We have all kinds of people who major in a variety of things. The arts don’t provide you with physical limits or performance competitions. They allow for honesty in expression and the chance to meet a variety of people that otherwise might not relate. I am not saying that sports are bad; as a girlfriend of an athlete, I definitely understand their benefits. However, I believe that the arts are an important aspect to building a community, and if you don’t allow it to be cultivated in structured settings, it might never be explored for fear of the unknown.

Noah: “It’s interesting, through research we find that schools aren’t necessarily cutting high school arts programs, but rather worsening arts programs in elementary schools. In many states, schools are not required to fulfill an elementary general music job with someone who has a degree in music education. This lowers the quality of the school’s arts program and can ultimately lead to less budgeting in the future.”

Advice

Heather: “Support your kids, your siblings, your friends, to try it. Take an art class or join a choir. It might not be for you, and there is no shame in that. But you can help cultivate a passion that can take them anywhere — from other nations like Europe, to other states, like Texas.”

Noah: “Anybody who is on the fence about marching band, whether it be college or high school, consider the opportunities it will bring you. Though it won’t be the Cotton Bowl, there is a good chance we will still be going to bowl games the next three years.”

Noah toots his own horn at the Cotton Bowl
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio

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