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Area high school marching bands place well at state finals

Southern charm helps Kent City take top honors

Kent City, Rockford — When students from the Kent City High School marching band stepped forward on Nov. 5 to accept their first place trophy at state marching band finals in Detroit, they were the only students in their division’s line-up to forego traditional marching band regalia. Instead, they wore blue jeans and clean white T-shirts that fit with the band’s performance theme, “Southern Homecoming.” 

Kent City was one of nine Michigan marching bands to compete at state finals in Flight V, the smallest division in the Michigan Competing Band Association for schools with fewer than 671 students.   

Director Jonathan Schnicke said that their Southern theme was inspired by a family reunion he attended with his wife in the Cajun area of Louisiana. The music, visuals and dance came together to create a sense of warmth with a tinge of nostalgia.

“It was designed to make you feel down home,” he said. 

The 10-minute show featured a family picnic, dueling banjos, line dancing and a haunting vocal performance of Skylar Grey’s “Coming Home.” 

Kent City’s performance at the MCBA state finals begins with Cajun folk songs and comes to a climax as vocalists perform “Coming Home” by Skylar Grey (courtesy videos)

Schnicke said that those unfamiliar with competitive marching bands might not realize just how much is involved in creating a winning performance.

“Most people think of marching band like a rank and file military band, but when you get on the competitive level, most bands create a production. It’s almost as if you merge marching band with theater and dance,” he said.

This was the first year that Kent City created their own musical arrangements, combining Cajun folk songs by Frank Ticheli with “Appalachian Morning” by Robert Sheldon, and “Coming Home.” A choral ballad, “Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen, created an emotional crescendo. 

To get band members in the right frame of mind for the state championship, Schnicke said he asked each student to think about a friend or loved one who’d passed or moved away. Some students even taped pictures of departed loved ones to the sides of their instruments as they played.

“I said, ‘Find someone who is gone now, that if you had a family reunion today you’d want to be there.’  

Rockford took home first-place honors in Flight I, the marching band division for the state’s largest high schools

Honors All Around

The Kent City marching band took command of Ford Field just after 10 p.m. at the state finals — the last band to perform for the day. Twelve hours earlier, Rockford High School’s band took first place honors in Flight I for their performance of “Aurora Awakens,” a re-telling of the classic fairytale, “Sleeping Beauty.” 

‘Most people think of marching band like a rank and file military band, but when you get to the competitive level, most bands create a production. It’s almost as if you merge marching band with theater and dance.’

— Jonathan Schnicke, Kent City Marching Band Director

Other Kent County marching bands also took home honors in Flight II, with Grandville High School and Byron Center High School earning second and third place, respectively. In Flight III, Northview’s marching band placed fifth and Cedar Springs, seventh. Godwin Heights and Sparta performed in Flight IV, earning fifth and ninth place, respectively, in that division. Comstock Park’s marching band joined Kent City in Flight V, earning fourth place honors.

Schnicke said it was an honor to perform alongside other West Michigan bands. 

“All five divisions have such great performers. All the groups brought a different story and different music.”

Kent City marching band members play their instruments around picnic tables as part of their theme, ‘Southern Homecoming’ (courtesy)
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Allison Poosawtsee
Allison Poosawtsee
Alli Poosawtsee is a writer who made her home in West Michigan after spending her childhood living in the former Soviet Union and Germany. She served as the editor-in-chief for Calvin University's student newspaper and then spent nine years as a writer and content strategist at her alma mater. Both of her children attend Grand Rapids Public Schools and she is an ardent supporter of public education.

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