We talked to Grand Ledge Band Director John Szczerowski about the 32nd Annual Grand Ledge Marching Band Festival. an event that showcases Mid-Michigan's finest high school musicians and marching bands.
Why is this festival and tradition so important to the Community of Grand Ledge?
This festival is so long-lasting in our community that it has grown into something that people look forward to each year. Every year we have many patrons that show up who have no affiliation with any of the bands performing, they just want to come and watch the bands play.
What is your favorite part of the evening and why?
My favorite part of the exhibition is the atmosphere we create for the kids. For a lot of the bands, they only ever play at halftime at their home games, where the crowd can often be distracting and noisy. Our show is specifically designed to give full focus not he bands. It’s also really cool to see the Spartan Marching Band, of which I’m a proud alumni, come and play on our field!
Why is continued support of High School marching bands and their programs so crucial to student growth?
Continued support for high school band programs is essential because of the camaraderie it provides for students. So many of my students call their band mates their family members. Band provides a safe place where kids feel a sense of belonging. And hopefully, through that belonging, they are able to create many fond and long-lasting memories!
Mason Brennan (Trumpet): “Today is a way for a lot of the smaller bands to come in here. They don’t get to do this often. When we invite them to come and play with us it’s a really big thing for them. Our music, since it’s our senior year – and it’s Mr. Esch’s senior year. We started as freshman and he started as a freshman we got to pick our show this year. So everyone almost unanimously wanted to play Disney songs, which sophomore year he said he would never do!”
Kelly Morgan: “It’s really special for me because it’s our senior year and its been rained out the last couple of times so it’s really interesting getting to see all the different bands and how their programs are different than ours.”
Ethan Hunter (Haslett Drum Major) : As a Drum major leading the group: “It’s not that hard we practice a lot and they’re a great group of people. When you have a band that loves what they do it’s not that hard because everyone wants to go out there and do a good performance. I’m just up there conducting."
Haslett Band Director Mike Larsen: “This event is a really special thing because our band not only gets to perform in front of a bunch of other bands, and their parents but we also get to watch a new band every fifteen minutes. We just performed but we are going to go back in and every fifteen minutes we are going to see another school, their band and that’s been working on their show starting back in the hot days of and camp in August like we did, and just to see different kinds of ideas and different marching styles. Sometimes we take that stuff and the kids bring it to us “hey we saw this band do something and we want to try it. When we play it forward in future years sometimes we incorporate those things”
On the audience reacting to the performance: “We try to get a reaction out of the audience. It’s one of our things in the creative process…In some years we will try and get a little laugh out of the group with some stuff that we do on the field. We always try and get a great reaction from the audience and what’s special about this place is that you get to see down on the band where at home sometimes you don’t get to see the depth of everything when you put it on the field.”
Anna Ludlow (Clarinet): On knowing the crowd is musically educated “I think that’s something that definitely excites me because knowing that they have expectations that we have to meet it empowers me to do better. I get very excited in a way because they can anticipate what will happen, so I anticipate it more. I just get more excited and the nervousness dissipates and I’m happy to do my show.”
Ava Brewer Senior & fourth year in the band: “I think our band did such a great job, I always think that we do. I’m a very optimistic person so its amazing for me to see these huge bands like Grand Ledge and DeWitt and seeing our band from a class C school competing with them. People compare us but they really think we do a great job and I think we do too. Our director is also so supportive and leads us to do really great things and be comparable to these big bands which is amazing. Mr. Cousineau is absolutely amazing he is so supportive of each and every one of us. He makes each one of us feel that we are such an important part of the band. That is so important with the amount of people that are there it’s so awesome that he can make us feel so important. So I think we did a great job like usual – I love our band!”
Konnor Wicke Senior & 4th year at the GLMB Festival: “It’s almost the same but its different every year because of the different kids that come in. They all play different, they all act different so you never know what you’re going to get walking into it. So preparing for this I would say it’s all just discipline that’s the bottom line. You have to have discipline to in order to compete with the bigger bands that come too. Since we just have over one hundred kids in our band we have to compete with bands that have almost double that. We complete with class A schools, but we are only a class C school. It’s harder to compete with the volume and clarity but overall I think we do a pretty good job of keeping up."
Laingsburg Director Thomas Cousineau "Coming to the Grand Ledge invitational means the world to the band. We can show off our product and our brand to other schools that we don’t normally get to see outside of our district. We get to see larger bands, bands with different styles as this is just our fourth year coming here.”
On the senior group: “I think our senior group coming through – this is their fourth year they were really scared and nervous not knowing who was going to watch, and it’s been raining a couple of years so they were pretty sure of themselves. We just had another performance on Monday so they were excited for today and it showed on the field. They did a great job.”
Bernice Curry Senior (section leader of the Color Guard): “I feel like the color guard brings the band together as the visual aspect of it. Once we’re out there we push and it feels like we’re a family. We are with each other five hours a week from May to November. We really get a bond and you can really see it in our performance. It’s a little different marching with flags than it is marching with an instrument. Marching with flags you have a lot more movement, our arms and our bodies have to be that visual aspect for the band. They’re playing the music but we are what everyone else sees. We get a pretty good workout there especially in the arms – I have muscles now!”
Lansing Eastern Band Director Mauricio De Rosso : "We’ve been doing the Grand Ledge festival for years now, basically since I’ve been teaching at Eastern, and this is my 17th year. It’s our chance to play for an audience that understands what we are doing. They’re either band students themselves or parents that go to football games all the time. That’s really exciting for the students because they get a chance to have them react to what we are doing. A lot of times our home crowd will miss a lot of the things that we do that are band things, so this really pumps them up. This is also a week before we do our marching festival where we actually get a rating so it’s a wonderful dry run at it – to get the educators comments. So we have some very specific things to work on in the next week and refine our show.”
Lukas Carlson: On what is different for this event: “Just the amount of audience members who know what you’re doing. At a typical football game you’ve got parents who know what you’re doing because they know music but to have other bands sitting there watching you, who know how to march in time and how to roll step, it just adds another layer of complexity in your training leading up to it...Things have changed quite a bit this season because we have a new band director so we’ve had to go through that transition. Also our drum major couldn’t be here today so we’ve had a lot of things we had to work through – but it’s been good.”
On the pressure of the event: “ I think it’s good, some others don’t take it so well. It offers the ability of the leaders to rally the underclassman to push them and drive them to where they need to perform well and it ends up being a positive experience for a lot of band members.”
Avery Schuen 10 Sax (and Tenor solo): “I thought today’s performance was pretty good on our part, because we’ve kind of been struggling this season – although I think we came together today and kicked some butt! I’m pretty proud of us. This environment is better than any other environment I think we’ve ever performed in because there are a lot more people and there’s more pressure to push us to do a lot better than we ever would.”
On her solo Defying Gravity: “I’m Alphaba the witch and it’s pretty fun. I’ve never played the tenor before so that was kind of an experience. You have to use a lot more air and it’s mouth piece is bigger, it’s just bigger in general and harder to march with. It’s fun once you get the hang of it."
Nathan Schulte: It took a lot of effort to get to this event today, and it’s something we’ve been looking forward to for the last couple of weeks. Honestly I feel they brought their best performance today – I’m really proud of the way they worked. They seemed to really have an understanding of where they needed to go in the drill and had a better idea of how to dress the drill today which is something we’ve been working really hard on. It seemed to really come together today.” This is my first year at this school, the seniors have really stepped up to make sure that the underclassman are where they need to be and doing what they need to do when they need to do it. It’s been really helpful for me to lean on them to get things done.”
Head Snare on the drum line Ben Hamilton: “The Lions band comes out of Michigan and you try out for the band in October and you have three rehearsals that go all day. It’s pretty difficult to get accepted in. As the percussion you play the Connecticut Half Time Show which is really hard, then when you go places you have precamp for a week and get ready and march. There’s usually about 10,000 people that watch and 10,000 people that march. Playing in a band with 18 people is much different than playing in a band with 52 people and marching in front of the 10,000 people.”
Lauren Schafer: “We marched on the Grand Ledge field, which is amazing. The atmosphere here is everyone who comes to watch us are people who support bands and not just the people who come for the football games. They are here to cheer us on and are the most positive people. Our show is the Friday Night Fever, we played 70’s songs. We also have two drum breaks which are awesome to listen to. We also have a part where almost everyone but the drum line danced the hustle.”
Jake Rooda: “ I think for our band these competitions are an amazing way to come out and see other bands. For us we stay at our school a lot and we don’t get to see what else is going on musically. So these two times a year we go here and we also go to Owosso. It’s their big chance to see what else is out there. Plus they love to perform in settings where the audience is actually listening. When you go to a football game the audience is like “okay it’s time to get up and get a hotdog, oh look the band is still out there”. When we come to these things people are here to listen to them.”
Maddie Prince: On the event “There are a lot more people, a lot more eyes on you. It’s just the vibe too, we have so many games where it’s just another game, but we only have two events. We have one competition, and one exhibition so when we come to these things it’s all or nothing. Everyone is in on it and everyone is excited.”
Nathan Koenigsknecht on his solo: “It was really exciting. There were a few goofs in there but for most part I thought it went really well. The band complimented it perfectly and House of the Rising sun was really good, I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better."
Randy Voisnet: “This gives the high school band a chance to get together and see what each other does. We have all sorts of events for teams to get together, there are all types of community events for that – so this lets the bands appreciate each others work.”
Ivy Patrick: “We are the most visual that’s for sure, it’s just a different element than the music but it adds to it. If they’re playing different parts – playing forte and its busy or the biggest part of the song then we will make it the biggest part of our work."
Max Coolidge: “To be a part of the Eaton Rapids Marching band is to be a part of a family, we are very close. We meet very early in the season before we even start rehearsing to make sure that we are close and bonded and it’s really like a family. I can’t imagine high school with out all of the band kids for that matter."
Adam Gumbrecht Eaton Rapids Band Director: “The best thing about this is it’s just bands. We get to see from them, learn from them applaud them. It’s not just a football game it’s a lot more.”
On what makes this festival different from the rest of their performances: “The biggest thing is just the amount of time they’ve put into this. It’s something that starts back the previous year. The school year is winding down but we’re just gearing up. There’s no such thing as downtime…they have summer sectionals, they have band camp. During the school year we have evening rehearsals, they’re doing sectional – they’re doing a lot and there’s a lot of time that goes into it on their end.”
Ashley Thompson Senior Drum Major on her role: “It’s basically to know where everyone is supposed to be and encouraging them when they need encouragement. Making sure they are having fun while still learning.”
Karissa Hall Senior & 4th year band member: “Freshman year was our hardest show, then as I got older it was so much easier. I try to each everyone around me on and practice my hardest”
Waverly Band Director David Grobe: “We’ve done this every year since even before I was band director. We look forward to it and it’s a great event so we just keep coming. As a matter of fact I came here when I was at MSU back in the 90’s.” On his seniors: “We’ve done a really good job this year, they’ve become very good leaders and are very positive and been very supportive of each other….they’ve all come together as a family and worked really hard and wanted to see a positive end to the season. They pushed through.”