‘Hard work, every single day’
Behind the growing field of marching bands in Northeast Michigan
ALPENA — People can hear the music from far away. They can hear the different instruments working together.
They perform at football games, parades, and community events throughout Northeast Michigan.
They are high school marching bands.
Marching bands have been growing the past few years in Northeast Michigan, giving students an opportunity to learn new skills — such as playing an instrument and marching — with their friends.
The Alpena High School marching band, Northeast Michigan’s largest, with 135 students, always strives to be the best, junior Damon Adams said.
“Every day, we push harder and harder,” Adams said.
Learning new music and marching is easy for older students, but it’s a challenge for the freshmen who are still learning, senior Kaylee Rondeau said.
Having 135 members is a challenge, but does make it easier to put different marching sets on the field, senior George Pilarski said. It’s hard to have everybody in the right place, though.
“I think it evens out, because, the bigger the band, the more section leaders, and the more widespread we can be,” Adams said. “The section leaders help out by making sure everybody’s in the same place.”
Senior Samantha Atkinson said it’s a journey to go from the big picture of the marching band show when starting to learn the movements to perfection when performing at football games.
“We start with the basics and work from there to get where we are, even in the middle and the end, it’s such a big difference,” Atkinson said. “It’s just hard work, every single day.”
Adams said the marching band works hard behind the scenes.
“I feel like some people don’t really realize what we do behind the scenes and how much we really practice on the field,” Adams said.
The Alcona High School marching band consists of 25 members in its first year back after an eight-year hiatus because of budget woes. This is year four of Alcona Community Schools working to bring its band program back, so the district expanded with a marching band program this year.
Students are excited to have a marching band in Alcona.
“It’s really exciting, being such a small school and having the privilege to be in marching band like so many other schools around the country,” junior Grace Atkinson said.
Freshman Logan Bates said having a marching band in Alcona is rewarding, because the students are a part of something that has not been seen in the area for a long time.
The band performs at football games, and freshman Rebecca McCoy said people are excited to see a marching band. She said it’s fun to be part of something of which the school is proud.
Senior Violet Roiter said the most challenging thing about marching band is staying in step with the others, along with learning the music.
“I’m a naturally fast walker, so it’s hard to stay in line with everybody else,” she said.
Thirty students make up the Atlanta High School marching band, and senior Cherokee Cunningham says it’s one big family.
“It’s really fun to be a part of the band in Atlanta,” Cunningham said.
Senior Hailee Brown said Atlanta’s marching band is small, so every part matters. There are only a couple of students for every instrument.
“Everyone has to always be sounding their best, and, no matter what, you’re always heard,” Brown said. “I feel like the atmosphere is really accepting, because we all understand, we’ve been ninth-graders playing music, so it’s really difficult at first, but everyone’s really accepting.”
Freshman Gage Cheedie said the marching band is doing good this year and working hard to memorize music.
“We’ve been outside on the football field during games at halftime and trying to perfect that,” Cheedie said.
He said the best thing about marching band is making new friends, playing instruments they want to play, and marching outside.
Cunningham said the most challenging thing is making all the music go together. She said that, with so many instruments in the band, it’s hard to get the right tone from everyone to make the music sound the way it’s supposed to.
The Hillman Jr./Sr. High School marching band restarted last year after being gone for a few years because of financial constraints and a lack of participation. The students are excited to have a marching band program.
Senior Brianna Mulder said the marching band has gotten a lot better since last year. They perform at football and basketball games.
“We treat each other as family,” seventh-grader Agrese Bonafiglia said. “When I was in sixth grade, last year, we were playing songs that sixth-graders shouldn’t play.”
Bonafiglia said the toughest part about marching band is staying together, because they sometimes get behind in the music.
“It’s difficult, but I love it,” Mulder said.
Bonafiglia said her favorite moment from marching band is going to band camp before the school year starts.
Seventh-grader Kya Stanley said the Hillman marching band is small, but is a talented group.
“It’s good for us to be a small group, because we’re closer,” Mulder said.
Just like the other marching bands, Rogers City High School students say their marching band is like a family.
“We care for each other and support each other,” senior Fallon Schulte said.
Senior Abby Sterly said band members argue sometimes, but, in the end, they are all there to support each other.
“The best part of marching band is working so hard and then getting out to the field and killing it,” she said. “It feels like an honor to be able to represent our school like this, and I love it.”
Schulte said the challenges in marching band are her favorite part. She likes getting new music that’s hard and takes time to learn and putting effort into making the music sound good.
She said, though, that playing challenging music can be hard for some students, while others find it easy.
Senior Makayla Tennant said the most challenging part about marching band is getting a difficult piece of music not everyone can play well.
But it motivates her to keep practicing to perfect the piece.
“I believe the best part about marching band is our halftime performance,” Tennant said. “I’m in cheerleading, as well, so that’s the part I get to experience the most.”
Tennant said it’s a great feeling when they work really hard on songs and they turn out well when performing.
“We have such a small band (and) it can be hard, sometimes, and some selections we can’t really play, (but) in the end, we sound amazing,” Sterly said.
Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.