BELDING — When students from the Belding High School symphonic band took the stage Friday afternoon, they had already mentally prepared for the worst.
Of the 17 total bands that took to the stage at Belding High School’s impressive performing arts theater during the Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) District 7 Festival, Belding’s symphonic band was the final ensemble to perform.
When the year began, students were eager to come together in an attempt to play for three judges with a goal to achieve a top Division I rating, but Mother Nature soon put a sudden halt to that enthusiasm.
After 17 snow days disrupted three weeks worth of in-class rehearsal time, even postponing this year’s festival by a week, the uneven schedule and lack of consistent practice time weighed heavy on students and faculty alike.
“It was out of our control this year, and when anything is out of your control, it’s stressful,” Belding High School band director Laura Hyler said. “Teaching over these past few weeks, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
Without a single full week of school since early December due to frigid temperatures, slippery roads and heavy snowfall accumulation throughout the winter season, Hyler said she didn’t have much of a chance to properly bring her ensemble together to prepare for their most important concert of the year.
“Whatever happens, happens,” she said. “There’s been a lot of factors this winter and I am very proud of them no matter what happens.”
Hyler wasn’t alone.
Band directors from other area schools, such as Greenville, Central Montcalm, Lakeview and
Montabella also competed Friday, and had to attempt to overcome the large amount of missed practice time.
Bands compete in front of three judges, playing three songs each, competing against five standards of tone, interpretation, intonation, technique and rhythm.
Followed by a sight-reading performance, in which students are performing a piece of music they receive for the first time, a final rating is given as a result of the scores from the four judges.
Greenville band director Susan Gould said it was difficult to get her bands to come together as an ensemble in time for Friday’s performances.
“Every time they played together, it was fresh, it was different,” she said. “It wasn’t awful, as they are fabulous musicians, but they didn’t necessarily have the time to figure out how their parts fit in with everybody else’s.”
But on Friday, students from each district rose above the challenge, putting on performances that were arguably their best of the shortened school year.
When things finally came to a close, and the ratings were handed out, Hyler and her students were pleasantly surprised to see their dedication and will to succeed had paid off.
They had earned the coveted Division I rating, despite the odds against them.
“These students are pretty phenomenal and they work hard,” Hyler said. “This just shows how much they care. They really stepped it up.”
For Belding senior and percussionist Conner Middlebrook, earning the Division I rating was both surprising and rewarding.
“Today, a few of the pieces were the best I’ve ever heard,” he said. “Once you put on the uniform and step foot in this auditorium, everything just comes together. I think we did a good job today.”
Middlebrook said Hyler had told the band beforehand that expectations were modest at best for their performance on Friday.
“Going in, it’s not that she doubted us, but she told us we would not earn a Division I rating if we didn’t pull things together,” he said. “I think it was more motivation than a lack of confidence, and it worked.”
And the Belding High School band’s strong efforts were not unique on the day.
Several other area bands earned Division I and II ratings, such as the Greenville Middle School band, whose students erupted into large cheers when they had learned that they had earned the top Division I rating.
“This means a lot, with as little time as we had and as hard of music as we had to play,” Greenville
Middle School band director Jeff Ayres said. “We have a lot to be proud about.”
Gould had taken two of her six bands to Friday’s competition, and they also managed to claim Division I ratings.
“It’s a team effort, just like an athletic team,” she said. “Everyone can go out there and be a soloist, but unless everyone play’s off of each other’s strengths, it’s not going to come together, and today it did.”
Friday’s performances turned into an opportunity for students to rise above a difficult winter season, and each and every band grabbed ahold of that opportunity with success.