By Sue Moore
Vicksburg’s Big Red Machine is the largest high school band in southwest Michigan, with 194 members marching this fall. It takes five or six buses and three trailers to transport all the students and their gear to their competitions in September and October, according to Vicksburg High School Band Director Ben Rosier.
The sense of pride for these students when the band pulls into a stadium parking lot of another school is palpable, Rosier said. The band’s record of many first place finishes in the past competitions puts pressure on all members, new and returning, to succeed on the new model. More so considering that 25 percent of the band members have never marched before when the season begins. Somehow they are able to master the formations by the first performance in August. Rosier noted that marching band now counts for a physical education credit, thanks to the state legislature recently passing a bill to this effect.
It all starts with student leadership. His system depends on the juniors and seniors taking responsibility to mentor the freshmen and sophomores. “This is the way we start to build the ‘band family’,” he said. “These are relationships that can last a lifetime, witness the many graduates that came back for the alumni band performance during Vicksburg’s Homecoming football game.”
Recruiting for the band starts at the sixth grade level with 126 young people enrolled in lessons this year. Patty Stoll is the director in middle school. A big drop off in interest in many schools occurs when students enter ninth grade with almost 80 percent selecting out of many band programs, according to Rosier. Vicksburg has been able to flip this number and retain 80 percent of the incoming freshman band members. This is what created a need for 20 more new uniforms in 2015. At a cost of $400 per uniform in 2014, the band boosters paid $90,000 for 180 uniforms. Now they are out in the community, looking for more donations to cover the cost of 40 more new uniforms. They are also recruiting new volunteers to help carry out the mission of supporting the band’s many activities.
A “glow-run” was held in October for runners as a way to raise money for the band. At $25 for the entry fee, boosters had over 200 registered competitors to help toward the uniform purchase, according to the chair of the event, Donna Cratsenburg-Scott. In September, the band raffled off a red and white Chrysler convertible that helped raise money and awareness of the band’s needs.
This year’s band show was developed around the number nine, which is how many years Rosier has been building the band program in Vicksburg. The planning begins with his technical team and Assistant Director Ravenna Kahler at the end of the school year. The actual practice starts the first Tuesday after July 4 and runs through the season, concluding with the last home football game in October. Band camp for a week in August is where members learn the show, but also how to deal with each other, Rosier pointed out. Each student is given their coordinates, with eight steps to every five yards. They then find their dot on the field for each sequence in the performance. The judges at each contest will look for the formations, stops and starts, music flow, and general effect of the show. All the music has to be memorized.
Being in the band can bring lots of benefits for students, according to band parent Linda Lane. Her kids have benefited from leadership training, accepting responsibility, gaining music knowledge, and caring for each other. They don’t want to disappoint each other while earning great respect from the rest of the 800 plus students in the high school, she added.
This year, 35 of Rosier’s band students have gone on to play in college marching bands or participate in their college music programs. The largest group of 18 is at Western Michigan University. Four are at Grand Valley, three at KVCC, two at Hillsdale, two at Michigan State and two at University of Michigan. One each is at Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Michigan Tech, and Albion.