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‘Their absolute best’

Marching bands bring home state championship honors

Sometimes it is hard to know exactly what to do, said Kent City Marching Band Director John Schnicke — especially at Detroit’s Ford Field on Nov. 2, when the band won its first-ever state championship.

“When a sports team wins big, the band plays, but when the band is the focus, what do you do?” he told a cheering community at a season-end celebration two days later. “We play.”

And play they did.

The Marching Band students celebrated their historic championship on Nov. 4 by playing their winning piece one last time for the community in the high school gym. Then, after an awards ceremony, they retired to the cafeteria to obey the mandate of Marie Antoinette — the subject of their winning show — and they “let them eat cake.”

That’s the English translation of their winning show, “Qu’ls Mangent de la Brioche.” With music written and arranged by Alex Thode, it featured the numbers “Sky Dance” by Richard Saucedo, “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre, and “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Killer Queen” by Queen.

The dramatic rendition was highlighted with a crashing guillotine, which was masterminded and made possible by Band parent Jeff DeGraaf,  Schnicke said. “The sound of a 60-pound blade coming down really added to the drama of our show,” he said.

DeGraaf was one of many community members and supporters thanked at the celebration. Section leaders also singled out Band members for being most improved in their section, giving 100 percent all of the time, helping fellow Band members, exceptional leadership and stepping up when needed during the season.

The year’s trophies on display

But the recurring theme of the evening celebration was the difficulty of singling out any one member. “Everyone gave their best this year,” Schnicke said.

Marching Band had a series of successes this year, from camps and early August performances to several first placements at regional invitationals. The trip to Ford Field for the state championship was highlighted by a week too busy for daily rehearsals, extreme nervousness, and even a flat tire on one of the trailers.

“It was like a NASCAR fix, and a less than 30-minute change,” Schnicke recalled.

But after the performance, students were satisfied. “When they got done, it didn’t even matter what the placement was,” Schnicke said. “The activity was what it was all about. And they knew it was their absolute best. They knew it. The crowd knew it.”

In addition to placing first overall in Flight 5 (schools with fewer than 662 students), Kent City took first in all categories: best music performance, best visual (marching), and best general effect.

3X for Rockford

While Kent City was celebrating its marchers’ first-ever championship, boosters and students in Rockford hailed their school’s third consecutive Division I title.

After winning the honor at Ford Field, the band’s approximately 270 members next head to Indianapolis Nov. 15-16 for the Bands of America Grand National Championships.

The band’s winning show, titled “Fer Forgé,” included Symphony #3 by Arthur Honegger, “The Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens, and “L’Isle Joyeuse” by Claude Debussy.

The Detroit performance capped a season in which the band played invitationals at Rockford, Grandville, Jenison and the West Shore Invitational at Sparta High School.

Led by Director of Bands Brian Phillips and Assistant Marching Band Director Evan Bahm, the marching band’s excellence reflects not just its players’ skills but the entire community’s support, Phillips said.

“We are incredibly proud of the students and their dedication to this program,” Phillips said. “As performers, they have a true desire for improvement and growth, and we couldn’t be more excited about where they are and where they are going. 

“The phrase ‘it takes a village’ holds true here,” he added. “We would not be able to offer this experience to our students without the unwavering support of our families, school administration, community, and, most of all, those parents who volunteer within the program.”

The 270-member Rockford Marching Band performs at Ford Field in the state championships
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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and is thrilled to spend some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio or email Janice.


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