Story and photos by Tara Hefferan
Newaygo Marching Band is a small-town band with a big-time sound that was on full display at the Michigan Competing Band Association’s (MCBA) State Championship at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday, November 5. Newaygo’s show “Take Shape” is a soaring presentation of music and movement that brings the audience on an emotional journey, not only because of the skillful performance but also because it celebrates the heart of the performers and community.
Newaygo’s Band program has a legacy of achievement, regularly earning a spot in the state competition. This year, Newaygo earned 5th place in the Flight V competition. Band Director Branden Listh was pleased with this achievement, saying “Yesterday's performance was great. The kids put their all in it, and I couldn't be more proud of what they have accomplished. Flight 5 is one of the most competitive flights in MCBA, and Newaygo did great.”
Competition day was long, beginning with rehearsals in Newaygo at 9:00 AM and arriving in Detroit around 6:30 PM. The journey from parking lot to performance field was an adventure, as wind and rain whipped through the “big city” streets. To enter the stadium, students passed multiple security checkpoints, complete with metal detectors and instrument inspections, before they were admitted to the famous “tunnel.” The tunnel is a steep and slippery incline that directly connects the street to the playing field. Moving heavy equipment and props through the tunnel is a challenge, taxing muscles and stamina for performers and volunteers alike.
Yet, access to these “backstage” areas associated with the NFL games played at Ford Field communicated the seriousness of the moment—this was the big show, the one they had prepared for all season. When it was showtime, the band left the dimness of the tunnel to move under the blazing lights of the stadium. The scene was stunning, with the bright green of the field meeting the vibrant blue of the stands. During setup, as volunteers and staff assembled the “stage,” Newaygo fans in the stands cheered loudly, both for the band as a whole and for individual performers. As Mr. Listh noted, “Our parents really make everything happen.”
Then, the Newaygo Marching Band gave the performance it has worked toward all season. It was theatric, with bold marching formations that fluidly moved throughout the field. It was musical, with difficult songs played with equal parts skill and heart. It was beautiful, with the color guard gracefully “taking shape” with neon costumes and props. Such moments bring band and audience into synchronicity, creating a shared experience that is rich in meaning and emotion. Newaygo’s performance was a beautiful end to another successful marching season.
Reflecting on the season, Mr. Listh said, “My favorite memory from this season was seeing the students so excited when introducing new music or new drill. The students, every time, would be ready to go at it the moment after I would introduce it. As the season went on, it was such a pleasure to hear from the community and individuals of how well the band was performing. I had, at our last football game, one individual that specifically searched me out after the game to say how well the students were playing.”
With marching season over, the Band now turns its attention to Jazz Band, which will perform at the Newaygo Christmas Walk on December 2nd. Symphonic Band season also begins this week, with Newaygo High School and Middle School Bands giving performances on December 14th.
Talent, heart, hard work, and community help define Newaygo’s Band programs. Mr. Listh said, “We would like to thank everyone in the community for their support this season. We had a lot of sponsors this year that made this possible, and we would like to thank them for their support.” In turn, we would like to thank Newaygo Bands for giving the gift of music to our community and to congratulate them on a fantastic marching season.