By Sue Moore
True to its word, the Vicksburg High School (VHS) marching band, the Big Red Machine, paid off its $50,000 loan for new uniforms in just a year. That won’t be the end of their need. The 180 uniforms ordered for the 2014-15 school year will need to be augmented by 40 new uniforms in 2015-16.
The popular band program will see an influx of a huge eighth grade class of musicians for the upcoming school year. Although VHS graduated 20 seniors from the band, there are 40 new ones to take their place, according to Ben Rosier, band director.
He plans to suit up over 200 young people for the first marching band presentation of the year. This represents over one fourth of the students in the high school, according to Principal Keevin O’Neill.
“I absolutely love hearing the drumline perform as the “Big Red Machine” enters the stadium before a Friday night home football game,” O’Neill said. “The VHS marching band is a huge part of the culture at VHS. They are committed to putting on the best performance every single time they play. They compete in many competitions and routinely win. I’m very proud the way the band members handle themselves as students as well.
“Mr. Rosier and Mrs. (Ravenna) Kahler are outstanding directors and leaders and instill a commitment to excellence in every one of the members of the band.”
The next 40 uniforms will cost $16,000 and the Vicksburg Band Boosters Inc. has pledged to raise the money through lots of new and old fundraising ideas. The most inventive effort headed by band parent Linda Lane, is a raffle for a 1990 Chrysler LeBaron convertible. Purchasers can get a chance to win with a $10 ticket or a three for $25 combo, she said. The group kicked off the campaign at the Old Car Festival and plan to keep the effort going until drawing the winner at the September 25 Homecoming football game. Contributions are tax-deductible.
The growth of the band over the last seven years that Rosier has been in Vicksburg is a testament to the students’ dedication and the band parents’ support for their efforts, according to Rosier. “You have to have the kids excited about band and the parents’ commitment will take care of itself. If the kids are having fun in band, the placements will follow as well.” His bands have consistently won first place in nearly all of the contests they have entered, including marching, concert, and symphonic band competitions. One of the pieces they love to play and dance to is Little Liza Jane, an old standard for which Rosier wrote choreography eight years ago. The kids move out of parade formation and greet their audiences on the sidelines wherever they are appearing while playing this lively tune.
To enlarge his own repertoire, Rosier spent a week in Scotland during November 2014, running master classes and conducting ensembles. He was invited there by a music conductor from the south Lancastershire area near Edinburgh. This teacher had been invited to play with the Kalamazoo Concert Band in 2013; Rosier is a member. Rosier invited him to Vicksburg’s classroom. That turned out to be an eye-opener for both of them. In Scotland, music teachers spend most of their time giving private lessons. After two years of practicing on their own, the students are tested to see if they are ready to play in an ensemble that is strictly an extra-curricular activity, Rosier explained. “I see seven bands in a day and they see just one with the rest of their time given over to private lessons.”
To handle this many students and also teach in the middle school, Rosier has the assistance of Patty Stoll, Jena Dentler, the color guard trainer, and in the high school for the last two years, Ravenna Kahler. Kahler is a Western Michigan University graduate who co-directs the bands, drills them in marching and sectional rehearsals. “We are a good tag team,” Kahler said. “I get to do what I love every day, and learn from Ben while helping with communication, the detail stuff, and organizational effort.”
Rosier knows that ten percent of the job is on the podium making music and 90 percent is the logistics to get them there. This will be most evident as the 200 students load the buses to head for the annual band camp on August 1. There they will learn the basics of the marching band show for the fall, working from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 at night.
Other money raising activities by the Boosters include a 5K Glow-Run Oct. 10 along the Recreation Area Trail. A ‘Go Fund Me’ site on Kickstarter has raised approximately $1,000 thus far. The band boosters have also run the 50/50 raffle during home football games to raise money. They will even sell the old uniforms this coming year to former students in the band who love to have them to keep, according to Rosier. Other schools have been interested in purchasing them, such as Colon High School, whose colors just happen to be red and black.