For a group of students so focused on working to create beautiful, flawless music, the Carson City-Crystal High School Band sure has made a lot of noise this year.
That noise, of course, is what has followed its majestic, grandiose performances — the cheering, hugging, crying and shear excitement of coming out on top again and again.
On Thursday afternoon of last week, the 42-member concert band performed at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra (MSBOA) State Band Festival in an attempt to earn a coveted Division I rating at the highest of levels in Michigan.
Playing at host Belding High School, the members of the band came together to play three pieces of music before three judges and then tested their abilities during a sight-reading exercise in front of a fourth judge.
By day’s end, the students waited anxiously together as their ratings were posted in dramatic fashion.
One by one, at the tip of a thick black marker, the numeral “I” was inscribed in all four judging categories, with a fifth “I” showcasing the final result.
The reaction from the students was pure bliss.
“We all cheered together, we all celebrated together, as a band, as one,” Carson City-Crystal High School senior Trevor Schafer said. “We can all look at each other and be happy, we all contributed. We all stuck to our abilities and we did it, performing will all of the pressure. I’m at a loss for words it’s so exciting.”
It’s a cap on a year that saw the band earn its first-ever Division I rating in marching band, saw eight students participate at State Solo and Ensemble, and has now received a Division I rating as a concert band at the state band festival.
“I don’t really know how to explain it, but I am very proud,” Band Director Chad Parmenter said. “It’s emotional to see these kids work really hard and see it pay off.”
Practice and hard work
After earning a Division I rating as a band on March 15 at the MSBOA District 5 Band Festival, Parmenter’s band qualified to perform at the state level, an option not all band directors pursue due to time and schedule constraints.
But at the helm of a smaller band, Parmenter said Carson City-Crystal is in a perfect situation to move on to the state level when the opportunity arrises.
“When you’re at district festival, we shoot for perfection on notes, rhythms and musicality,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to come back and push the intensity of the musicality further. To make our audience feel what we are trying to play versus just listening to it.”
Parmenter said it took an intense focus to accomplish the goal of coming out on top at the state level, and his students humbly agree.
“We put in a lot of practice and hard work,” Senior Megan Healy, 18, said. “Every morning from 7:45 to 8:40 a.m., we work nonstop. We’ve worked really hard.”
Those morning sessions seemed few and far between at times during a year that saw more than 15 snow days, but when they did have the chance to come together, the students took advantage of the time that they had to work with.
“You just have to focus on Mr. Parmenter and get into the music,” Senior Hannah Burtch, 18, said. “First hour, everyday, we have to play our instrument, but I’m always awake during band because I love it so much. It’s a form of art to express yourself.”
For several months, the students worked at the instruction of Parmenter to perfect three pieces of music.
The first, “March Courageous,” was a rousing march with energetic rhythms. The second, “Annabel Lee,” was a piece inspired by the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. The third was “Joyance,” a jubilant concert piece that served as an exciting finale for the ensemble.
In the sight-reading portion of the festival, in which the band members must play a piece of music they are receiving for the first time, the band performed “On the Edge of Tomorrow,” a powerful overture that the students adapted to quickly.
“I was very pleased with their performance. I thought that their hard work paid off and they were rewarded for it,” Parmenter said. “The participation of sight-reading is something we really worked on. I challenged the kids to have better participation of the reading of the music. I knew it would reflect in their playing. It was one of the better sight-reading sessions we’ve had in a long time.”
According to Parmenter, this was the band’s first Division I rating at the state level since 2010, and the first time in his tenure of 14 years that the band has earned a Division I rating in the sight-reading category at that level.
The success this year that the band has witnessed is something Parmenter said his students set out to achieve each and every year.
“I think, overall, it reflects on what we try to do as a school, and that’s excel in everything we do,” he said. “We are building the excitement right from the ground level, in the sixth grade, to be part of something that is successful. As we continue to be successful, it creates a hunger. My middle school students hunger for that spot, to compete at that level.”
For a group of nine students, the success on Thursday will be their final reward as students at Carson City-Crystal as they graduate later this year.
“We aced our year. Basically, we got everything we could ever expect,” Schafer said. “It feels great to bring this back to the town of Carson City because we’re a smaller band, a unique band. People can be doubtful about a band our size even though we have a lot of potential. To bring a Division I rating back to the school, it’s something to be really proud of. The fact that it was my last chance, being my senior year, it’s pure happiness.”
For senior Dakota White, 18, playing together at an elite level was especially meaningful because of the close bonds she has formed with her fellow musicians.
“We became a family, we’re all very close,” she said. “We like to have fun with what we do. It means a lot that our band is considered one of the best in the state.”
Parmenter said he is very thankful of the leadership provided by his seniors, but said Thursday’s performance was definitely a group effort with participation from everyone involved.
“My seniors have a lot to do with our success, but not just my seniors,” he said. “They are a great group of seniors that were willing to lead, and my underclassman were willing to follow and will become leaders. That’s a great thing when you are teaching multiple class levels.”
Added TV pressure
To add on the pressure of earning a top state ranking, this year the band was contacted by WKAR-TV, a PBS-member station out of Lansing owned by Michigan State University.
The network sent a team to interview students and film the band’s practice sessions at the high school and then followed the students throughout their performance on Thursday.
The members of the band will also travel to Michigan State University to record their performance again on a professional sound stage, as well as record more student interviews.
WKAR Station Manager Susi Elkins said the Carson City-Crystal Band will be part of a documentary that will feature eight high school bands that participated at the MSBOA State Festival.
“Our mission is to give exposure, a voice, to all of the artistic aspects available in our communities,” she said. “These school bands are a gem for people. Not everyone gets to see them perform. Part of our mission is to shine a light on those gems, and these students certainly work hard. They deserve it.”
The documentary does not have a specific air date at this time, but Elkins said it is “coming soon,” likely sometimes between the later summer and early autumn months.
“I think viewers can expect to see a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to pull together these top-notch performances and the hard work that these students are willing to put in,” she said. “We wanted to shine a light on that. We want people to be entertained by beautiful music, but also to get to know the kids creating the music.”
Having a camera crew filming the students added pressure that was already mounting high for the students, but it was a welcome addition.
“It’s something we have never been around and it added pressure,” Schafer said. “But it makes this experience that much more serious and enjoyable. It’s a big experience, to know we’re going to be on a TV station and be a part of this documentary. It’s a special feeling.”
The students agreed that it was a welcome opportunity to help showcase the community of Carson City in the greater Lansing area.
“It’s an honor that they chose us out of all of these bands,” Burtch said. “We’re so secluded out in the country, but now we get to shine in front of everybody.”
Importance of music
The students will have one more chance to perform for the public at their Spring Concert at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Carson City-Crystal High School.
The concert will feature both the middle school and high school bands, with admission at $5 per person.
“I’m very grateful for a band community that supports their children and their school,” Parmenter said. “I was amazed by the amount of people we had to see us on Thursday. We always have a good showing at festival, but on a workday in the afternoon, it was amazing to see that many people who cared enough about our program and our kids to fill up the room. Hopefully we will have a good turnout for our spring concert as well.”
For the students, being a part of the ensemble and performing one last time is something they will cherish forever.
“Knowing how to play an instrument is a talent, it’s something you can be proud of,” Schafer said. “You’re learning all the aspects of music, its qualities, its details. It’s something with so much content and that so much work that goes into, anybody who dedicates there time to it should be well respected.”