Story and Photos by Tara Hefferan
As competitors in the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA), Newaygo Marching Band knows hard work and long days. The band is at the high school before 8:00 AM on this Saturday, October 8, to rehearse ahead of their performance at Rudness Field in Belding later in the day. The morning consists of fine-tuning movements and music for their 2022 show, Take Shape.
Under Director Branden Listh and Assistant Director Megan Funk, the Newaygo Band Program nurtures a community focused on giving its best. To do so requires an army of volunteers, parents and former band members, who help to load trailers, prepare lunches and dinners, and move equipment and props. In the case of marching band, it takes a village to raise a performance. The village is in full operation by late morning, as the focus shifts from rehearsal to logistical preparation.
The band arrives at the Belding Band Invitational at 3:00 PM, and the students begin warm-ups. The musicians wear traditional black, gray, and white uniforms, with military-inspired shako caps topped with white ornamental plumes. The color guard sports black suits with bright neon designs that reflect the Take Shape theme. Newaygo Marching Band looks professional and ready to compete, but they first must move all their equipment from the loading area to the performance field. This is not an easy feat, as the route is an active road with its share of hills. With a police escort, the village hand-pushes wheeled pallets of microphones and other sound equipment, large instruments like drums and xylophones, and props first down, then back up the hills.
At the pit gate entrance, the band discusses final details until they are given the okay to move toward the field. There, the band waits with backs turned to the field to avoid watching the band currently performing. As that band exits, Newaygo is cleared to enter the field. The pace is furious, as students, staff, and volunteers move quickly to set up the props, plug in electrical equipment, position microphones, and complete seemingly another hundred necessary tasks. Then, it is showtime, as the announcer introduces Newaygo Marching Band, noting that Newaygo has twice won State Championship titles, in 2010 and 2012. The announcer then presents Drum Major Alexandria Bruwer, who salutes the crowd, then removes the shako to symbolize the start of the performance.
The band performs three musical selections: “The Canyon” by Philip Glass, “First Circle” by Pat Metheny, and “Take Shape” by Tom Weidner. Newaygo’s forty-four band members are electric, with beautiful movement, crisp marching, and graceful formations. While watching the show, the crowd is attentive and mostly quiet, except for spontaneous applause to recognize shifts in music, and exceptional movement and sound.
Mr. Listh says, “Our 3rd movement really brings the music together and wraps up our show very well. It has elements that we have not done in the past, and we are very excited to get it on the field for our audience. During this movement where we have our entire battery section taking off their drums and playing on floor toms to create a new texture of music for the listener.” Indeed, the audience shows its appreciation with thunderous applause. Then, the show is over, and everyone moves quickly to disassemble props, gather equipment, and leave the field.
In marching competitions, bands are penalized for not entering and exiting the field in the allotted time frame. Mr. Listh says, “We have only 3 minutes and 15 seconds to set up and warm-up. At that time there's an announcement introducing our band. If we do not play within 30 seconds of the start of the announcement we get penalized for every 3 seconds after the start of the announcement. During our show, we have to have 6 minutes on the field, and if we are short of that time, we again will be penalized for every 3 seconds we are short of that 6-minute performance time. We have a total of 14 minutes on the field, so whatever is left over after our performance is complete is how much time we have left to vacate the field.” Newaygo is well prepared today, completing its set up and take down well within the allowed time, which makes Mr. Listh proud.
This rigid control of time shapes distinctive periods in the performance cycle: pre-show, during show, and post-show. Pre- and post-show, the energy is frenetic and focused on mundane details of performance management and production. No one wants to be penalized for being too slow to set up or tear down the performance space. But, during the show, the energy is magical, transporting the crowd in a shared experience of music and pageantry that only marching band performances can create.
At the same time, though, this is a competition, and seven adjudicators score performances using a 100-point scale. Mr. Listh describes the scoring: “Competitions are scored based on three captions. Music (How well the band plays), Visual (How well the band marches), and General Effect (How well did the show portray its meaning to the audience). Music and Visual get a total score out of 30 each and General Effect gets a total score out of 40. For a total of 100 points. There are two judges that judge each caption, one is on the field and the other is in the press box.”
Scores are presented after all bands in each flight have performed. The award ceremony itself is visually striking, as representatives from each school form a long line facing the crowd. The varied marching band uniforms and color guard fashions are set side by side, and then the announcer reveals overall placement. Six bands have performed in Flight IV today, though host Belding gave an exhibition performance only, so will not be ranked in the competition. The final rankings are:
5th place: Durand, with a score of 68.65
4th place: Tri-County, with a score of 73.5
3rd place: Newaygo, with a score of 74.9
2nd place: Comstock Park, with a score of 76.2
1st place: Kent City, with a score of 80.5 and Music, Visual, and General Effect Caption Awards
Commenting on Newaygo’s score, Mr. Listh says “Today's score was great for the kids. It really showed how well they improved from the previous competition, from a 63.7 [last week] to a 74.9 [today]. That is a huge jump, and the kids know they improved.” Mr. Listh continues, “We would just like to thank everyone for coming out to our performances during football games and competitions. It is really great looking up in the stands and hearing the audience cheer the students on for their hard work. Thank you!”
Following the awards ceremony, the students and staff board the buses to return to Newaygo, where they will unload the trailers, put away uniforms and instruments, and reflect on the performance. Their day ends past 8:00 PM, twelve hours after it first began. Hard work. Long days. This is the heart of Newaygo Marching Band, which gives both its student participants and the wider community the gift of good music. So, thank you Newaygo Marching Band. You make Newaygo proud.
Newaygo Marching Band competes again next Saturday, October 15 at 6:10 PM at the Sparta Invitational at Sparta High School.
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