GREENVILLE — Standing on the sideline, with instruments and flags in hand and a focus that could not be shaken, students from 13 high school bands waited for the same single instruction before playing their first notes on Legacy Field.
Breaking the dead of silence and echoing throughout the stadium, the public address announcer delivered the final request of the band before the judges began their critiques Wednesday evening.
“Drum majors, is the band ready?”
With a salute from the school’s drum majors, the bands began to play.
One by one, each high school band performed their show, ranging from shows centered around the wild west to the music of Chicago. The sound of each band was rich and blaring in the confines of Legacy Field.
It was the first competitive marching competition to be held in the stadium since it opened last year, and the first Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) Marching Festival to be held in Greenville in the history of District 7, in which Greenville is a part of.
Greenville High School Director of Bands Susan Gould was heavily involved in the design of Legacy Field, making sure the stadium would provide a great setting for bands to play and be heard by the audience.
“This is something that we talked about when we were building Legacy Field,” Gould said. “The idea of bringing a marching festival here, because we can now do it, was always part of the game. I’m glad to see it become a reality.”
Gould said the combination of the acoustics, as well as the absence of a track around the field, provide a great environment for fans to be able to truly appreciate the music that is played on the field.
“For marching band, because there is no track around the field, the audience is really close to the music. It’s a totally different setting than a Friday night football game,” she said. “The energy that the students give each other is really cool.”
Superintendent Pete Haines was in attendance for the competition and was “extremely impressed” by the sound he heard produced from each of the bands.
“We have been looking forward to an opportunity to showcase this opportunity for our bands,” he said. “We feel like this was designed as a premier sight for football, and the same thing is true for marching band. This is as much about making an awesome band setting as it is a football stadium. The view, the acoustics, are pretty exceptional. We’re glad to have all of these bands here.”
At Wednesday’s competition, each band performed their halftime show routine before three judges with a goal to earn the highest division rating they can achieve.
The goal is always a division I rating, but even if that is not achieved, the students walk away knowing the hours of work they put in to creating their show were well worth the time spent.
The Central Montcalm High School marching band, consisting of 32 students, performed first on the night, playing their show, “Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba.”
It was the band’s first time performing at an MSBOA festival in three years and Director Matthew Reed said he couldn’t have been more proud of his students as they left the competition after achieving a Division II rating.
“This is an opportunity for us to raise ourself to a higher level of excellence,” Reed said. “Here you know you are being viewed and critiqued by people who have experience in your field. It gives the kids a little higher level of expectation to perform really well.”
Reed said the environment of performing for judges was new to most of his students, but that they accepted the challenge.
“I thought the students did really well,” he said. “We haven’t been at a marching festival in three years. It was a nerve-racking thing for our kids to do tonight because they haven’t done it much. Obviously the Central Montcalm band is rebuilding, but we are regrowing quickly.”
Senior trumpet player Austin Georgiades, 17, said at the end of the band’s performance that he was happy his band finally competed for a rating once again.
“I had a lot of fun out there,” Georgiades said. “As soon as you start playing, it’s just a blast. I feel we did pretty good tonight. I’ve been playing since the sixth grade and I just love it. We’re all friends, there’s not a single person that doesn’t know the other person’s name. It’s all worth it.”
The Lakeview High School marching band, consisting of 62 students, had the unfortunate displeasure of marching in the rain, but that didn’t stop the band from performing their impressive “Operation: Storm the Field 007” show, from which they walked away with a Division II rating.
Director Dean Gilbert said his students put in “endless” hours of work, and was glad to see them perform in front of so many other bands.
“It was very exciting tonight,” Gilbert said. “We start way back on July 30th. There’s a lot of sweat, tears, blood and hard work. We do football games, and that’s very important, but this was our chance here to really wow a music crowd. These kids put in a lot of extra time with extra rehearsal. They go way beyond the call of class time. To finally perform something like this, it’s very exciting.”
Lakeview senior drum major Cameron Bunker, 16, said performing in an environment such as the MSBOA festival inspires the students to be better.
“It kind of seems like you aren’t playing just for you, you see all of these bands and you want to be at their level,” Bunker said. “Coming here, everything is running through your head of what you’ve learned the past couple months.”
Senior trumpet player Rebecca Mathews, 18, said it was fun playing after seeing two of her past years being canceled because of weather conditions.
“It’s thrilling,” Mathews said. You want to appease the crowd and look respectable in front of the eyes of the other bands. We played as we’ve practiced and I’m glad we got to march.”
The Greenville High School marching band, consisting of 65 students, marched proudly on their home turf playing their “Wicked” themed show.
Gould said she was happy the hard work her students put in paid off as they left Wednesday with a Division I rating.
“We work quite a bit, not necessarily as much as some other schools, but we have rehearsal every day during school and the kids work super hard,” Gould said. “The kids have a lot of pride in their program. The show was something they really believed in.”
Sophomore drum major Austin Blaszczynski, 15, said it was an honor to be able to perform on Legacy Field.
“Performing here provides a sense of pride for the band, the fact that we get to show off our amazing stadium and band,” Blaszczynski said. “We played our hearts outs today, and that’s all I can ask of our band.”
Senior drum major Jacky Hilliker, 18, said she felt a sense of closure, being the last class to have performed on the previous home of the Yellow Jackets, Black Field.
“Being my senior year, being able to perform at home, it adds closure,” Hilliker said. “My generation is the last one to have performed halftime shows at Black Field, so performing MSBOA here at Legacy Field, it solidifies that this is our home now.”
The Tri County High School marching band, the largest band to perform on the night with 100 students, celebrated with cheers after earning their 24th straight Division I rating after performing their “The Music of Chicago” show.
Director Howard Wilson was pleasantly surprised by the performance put on by his students.
“I thought this was a building year, but everyone is raving about our show,” Wilson said. “These kids are as happy as can be. Seeing these results, it justifies everything that you do. It legitimizes all the time you put in.”
Senior drum major Alyssa Gardner, 17, said she was proud to walk away with her fellow students knowing their efforts had paid off.
“We are so proud,” Gardner said. “Senior year, ending it with a bang, it’s awesome. It’s definitely a lot of hard work and a lot of repetition. You need a lot of cooperation with your band director and fellow students.”
After performing the final show of the competition, senior colorguard member Opal Tafe summed up her feelings about being in band.
“By the end of the season, you feel like a family. We are a family,” Tafe said.
MSBOA District 7 Marching Band Festival ratings
Class AA: Grand Haven, Div. 1
Class A: Mona Shores, Div. 1; Greenville, Div. I
Class B: Coopersville, Div. II; Sparta, Div. I; Tri County, Div. I
Class C: Oakridge, Div. II; Fremont, Div. II; Montague, Div. I; Whitehall, Div. I; Newaygo, Div. I; Lakeview, Div. II
Class D: Central Montcalm, Div. II; Kent City, Div. I