Newaygo Marching Band “Takes Shape”
Story and photos by Tara Hefferan
Summer break ends in early August for Newaygo Marching Band. Keeping a grueling Monday through Friday, 9 AM – 5 PM training schedule, band kids know that hard work and commitment lead to success. Indeed, the band is among Newaygo High School’s most-winning competitive programs, with fourteen performances at the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA) State Championships at Ford Field since 2009, earning the state title twice and taking second place five times.
August practices have focused intensity, as the band of forty-five students learn the details of their 2022 fall show, “Take Shape.” They are led by Band Director Branden Listh. From atop his observation tower, Mr. Listh assembles his musicians in the Newaygo Bus Garage’s parking lot. The lot has been painted to reproduce a football field, with lines and signage marking yards and steps.
Using a microphone and loudspeaker, Mr. Listh calls directions, and the kids find their marks. Mr. Listh begins each instruction set by calling out “Hey Band!” The kids respond “Hey, what?” to signal they are at attention. Then, in an iterative process, with plenty of other calls and responses, Mr. Listh and his support staff lead the kids through their formations, finetuning steps, distancing, speed, musicianship, and the like. Repetition is key, as the same steps are practiced and corrected over and over, until they become embodied muscle memory.
The mood is jolly. The different “sections” of the band—led by student “section leaders”—coordinate outfit themes. Today’s themes include the Wizard of Oz, princesses, and vampires, among others. One goal is to develop a sense of community across the various sections. Another is to develop an identity connected to particular instruments. “Oh, she’s a flute” or “he’s a saxophone” are ways of noting who people are and where they fit. Also, the outfit themes are just fun, giving a festive edge to the hard work and long days.
With the band perfecting its new program, Mr. Listh says, “I am looking forward to our first competition. It is always an enjoyable experience for the students to travel and to experience other bands performing after we give our first performance.” The band will give its first public performance on Thursday August 25th at the Newaygo vs. Kent City football game’s halftime show. Kick-off will be at 7 PM. The first competition will be the Rockford Invitational on September 17.
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