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Middle, high schoolers band together

Filling out the band leads to state championship win

Kent City – Is there anything more memorable than being in high school and winning a state championship? 

If you are an eighth-grader called up to participate with those high school champions, maybe.

Sometimes, the Kent City Marching Band needs just a few extra students willing to put in the work necessary to be competitive. So, each year, band instructor Jonathan Schnicke invites a handful of middle-school students to join the high school band and all it involves, including band camp and all practices and performances.

This year’s group proved to be very successful. At the Michigan Competing Band Association State Championships Nov. 6 at Ford Field in Detroit, they placed first in Flight 5 and won awards for best visual performance and best general effects in performance.

“What is truly remarkable is that these students go from playing seventh-grade music to eventually achieving high-school level music – while marching and doing visuals,” said Schnicke. “This is a huge amount of information for these 13- and 14-year-olds to understand and perform at a high level.” 

The Kent City band was named state champions in Flight 5 (courtesy)

This year,  students took on more responsibilities than ever, joining percussion and color guard, he added.

Color guard members Cip Howen and Elizabeth Afton were excited to find that unlike previously eighth graders they were allowed to march and participate in all of the precision moves. 

Elizabeth said playing the part of a stern proud guard with the required rifle positions and move  was extremely challenging, and Cip recalled dealing with a “very slippery” stage before they found a way to cover it to avoid falls.

Julien DeGraaf followed in the footsteps of two brothers who had participated in marching band. “We have been working on this piece since July with at least 12 – 16 hours of practice every week, and unlike in sports where you get multiple chances to score points, in band you get one shot,” he said. Julien joined the percussion section.

Aaron Schnicke said he always enjoyed music and recalls liking the singing when he was little in church. “I had a strong feeling that I would enjoy band,” he said. And so with a little pressure from his dad (the director), Aaron learned to play a vibraphone – somewhat like a piano with a mallet and joined Julien in the percussion section.

“We don’t talk much about placements or scores throughout the season, our focus is always on the student performance and trying to achieve their best. This is a life skill that will help them in their adult lives.”

– Kent City Band Director Jonathan Schnickne about winning Flight Five State Championship

Peyton Puite, with her saxophone, proudly followed her sister, who participated in eighth grade when Kent City Marching Band won its first state championship in 2019. “This show itself is very hard,” said Peyton. “There are a lot of new mixes and a lot of it is difficult to visualize.”

Alisah Koetje was ecstatic to be called up to the high school band. “I knew they were looking for color guard members and percussion, but I asked and was so happy when he said I could play,” she said. Alisah recalls attending the symphony when she was a small child. “I could hear the flutes and I always wanted to play one,” she said.

Extra Challenges, Extra Benefit

Coming out of a Covid fall, every program in the state was dealing with two grade levels that had never performed in competition, said Schnicke. “Our seniors were only sophomores the last time we performed.” Extra time was necessary to make sure the students understood the process and were comfortable performing throughout the state.

Eighth graders, approached with an “advanced band experience,” met every challenge. “The biggest compliment that I can pay them is that you couldn’t tell the eighth grade performers from the high school performers,” said Schnicke. “They really blended in and were contributing members of our band.”

While Schnicke said the eighth grade participants will be able to answer questions and calm the nerves of their classmates moving into high school,  the students pointed to another benefit.

“It gave us a connection to more high school people. We will certainly be calmer and know our way around better next year,” said Alisah.

“I really liked not being with the same people all day,” said Cip.

“It was so amazing spending time with seniors and meeting people that I idolized,” added Elizabeth.

“It was interesting to get to do something most people don’t get to do,” said Julien. “And getting to know people in high school, (who) we normally wouldn’t even have talked to, are now our closest friends.”

At state finals, some students marched over to Comerica Park (from left): Ciprian Howen, Emily Shafer, Katie Swift, Alyssa Sindecuse, Elizabeth Afton, Grace Dietlein, Rocque Chatel, Brianna Vogg and Abby Kozal (courtesy)

The Winning Performance

The music was written by Alex Thode and was a collection of the songs “Every Breath You Take” by the Police; “Harrison’s Dream” by Peter John Graham ; “Mind Heist: The Evolution” by Zack Hemsey

The show was very challenging and students really embraced the task, said Schnicke.

The goal set for State Championships is “to have our absolute best performance of the year,” he said, “and to make sure that the students feel a huge level of pride in  their efforts for the season. It truly is a culmination of hundreds of hours of work.” 

“We don’t talk much about placements or scores throughout the season, our focus is always on the student performance and trying to achieve their best. This is a life skill that will help them in their adult lives.”

“I am so proud of not only our eighth grade performers, but our high school performers too,” he said. “This season was so special and we are extremely proud of our 2021 Flight 5 State Champions.”

Eighth-graders in high school band, from left: (back row) Peyton Puite, Julien DeGraaf, Aaron Schnicke and Alisah Koetje; (front row) Ciprian (Cip) Howen and Elizabeth Afton
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Janice Holst
Janice Holst is a reporter covering Kent City and Sparta. She 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 enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts. Read Janice's full bio

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