Monday, November 9, 2015

Michigan marching band championships, both official and unofficial

I told my readers to "stay tuned for continued entertainment coverage tomorrow, as I have two articles about the state marching band championship to share" at the end of 'SPECTRE' knocks 'The Martian' out of number one at the U.S. box office.  The first link comes from the Detroit Free Press: Bands bring music, drama to Ford Field competition.
How do Neil deGrasse Tyson, 21,000 square feet of black fabric and music from the "2001: A Space Odyssey" film fit into a high school band competition? With a lot of planning and some elaborate storytelling.

Music is at the core of the annual state high school band competition that kicks off Saturday morning at Ford Field, featuring 48 bands from across much of Michigan.

But this competition put on by the Michigan Competing Band Association is also about telling stories — and capturing the attention and emotions of the audience.

And as the band from Walled Lake Central High School closes out its morning performance Saturday, the only music will come from a single piano player, and the football field will be transformed into a night sky — thanks to all that black fabric that will be draped over students holding flashlights.

It's part of a "When I Look Up" theme that's based off an interview in which Tyson, the famed astrophysicist, talks about the universe. His voice is interspersed a few times during the show and the tempo of the music changes based on what he's saying.

"I think that this program really connects," said Emma Akouri, a senior who's part of the color guard. "It's exploring what the universe means to us and how we connect with everything, not just in society but up into space."
A marching band show that features Neil DeGrasse Tyson--how could I resist?   Of course I couldn't.

The band's effort paid off, as they came in second at the MCBA championship behind Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.  That band got a big mention in's Michigan competitive marching bands and politics out of tune.
Last year, the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA) held the 2014 state finals to judge which participating Michigan high school had the best marching band. The 180 member Plymouth-Canton Marching Band, led by Dave Armbruster and Jon Thomann, took the top honor with a show called “Don’t Bother, They’re Here.”

About five years ago Armbruster suffered a heart attack. Last year he told this writer, "My health became an issue in 2010 just because the show was so elaborate. It took a toll on my health. Unfortunately, two years later it took a toll on my marriage.” Mr. Armbruster is now divorced, but says he has a great relationship with his ex-wife, whom he called “wonderful.”

Mr. Armbruster says his health is better now and handles the stress by not sweating the small stuff. But funding the marching arts is expensive. Each student’s family is asked to contribute financially to fund the band’s activities, including going to the 2016 Rose Bowl. Mr. Armbruster emphasized no student is excluded for lack of financial resources.
I'm not the least bit surprised by the level of sacrifice required of the band director.  Think "Mr. Holland's Opus" on steroids for a program like Plymouth Canton's. 

The band's performance itself is not the main point of the article.  This is:
Michigan schools do not consider marching band a “sport” and do not get the same relative funding as some high school sports. High school sports’ budgets make up “approximately 1 to 3 percent of the district's education budget,” according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

According to Paul Lichau, Michigan State Band and Orchestra Association executive director, 71 percent of the member schools reported receiving less than $5,000 from their school districts. Marching bands struggle to cover the financial shortfall with the help of parent booster groups and outside donations.
Now, back to Michigan’s local politics. Why would Michigan’s Lansing politicians allow an activity that takes skill, stamina, intelligence, talent, teamwork and dedication to be underfunded? Only one obvious answer, many of Michigan’s elected representatives have never seen a marching band show.
I agree with the author that politicians need to watch a marching band competition. However, it's not Lansing's politicians who have to be persuaded; they don't allocate funds to particular school programs.  They merely set levels of per-pupil funding.  Instead, it's the school board members that approve the budgets; they're the ones who have to be convinced.  Taking your local school board members to a show might just be a good idea.  In Michigan, that will have to wait until next year.

That's it for the official championship.  There is an unofficial championship being run by MLive, Top 10 decided: Vote now for coolest high school marching band in Michigan.  The only bands that made both the official state championship and the MLive top ten are Walled Lake Central and Northview of Grand Rapids.  Of course, I'm voting for Walled Lake Central.  They're the best band according to the experts, of which I used to be one, and they're doing a space show.  I hope you vote for them, too, and soon.  The deadline is tomorrow November 10th at 10 A.M. EST.

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