Monday, April 09, 2018


As regular readers of this feature know, I grew up in Wisconsin and experienced the majority of my childhood in the 1970s. As a result of that timeline, I didn't get to see too many winning performances or experience too many championship seasons. I have vague memories of the Milwaukee Bucks winning their only championship in 1971, and I have better memories of the magical run of Marquette in 1977, as they won the NCAA men's basketball championship and sent Al McGuire out as a winner. Most of the other entities I cared about didn't do so well, though.

The world of marching band wasn't on my radar in those days, either. My high school, Xavier, did not have a marching band program. When we had our homecoming parade, they would have the pep band sit on folding chairs (with their music stands, of course) on the back of a big flatbed truck and play their songs as the vehicle rolled slowly down College Avenue. It was (a) ludicrous and (b) really, really unsafe, but that's how we did it. I knew the marching band was a big deal in college, but it wasn't anything that mattered. The band at Appleton East marched in the Orange Bowl parade in the early 1970s, but that was about it.

For the past four years, Fearless Maria has been part of the marching band program at her high school. And on Saturday night they won their third consecutive state championship:

3 in a row

Irondale High School competes in all the typical high school sports, occasionally doing well, but they aren't known for great success. They are great in winter drumline. Up until the last three years, I'd never had a chance to experience what it's like to be a state champion. Xavier won some state championships during my high school career, but that was at arm's length. Fearless Maria and her fellow drumline members are a full-on dynasty now and it's been a real education for me to see what it really takes to win a state championship and, even more importantly, what it takes to stay there. These kids put in an amazing amount of time into their shows. The other high schools that compete successfully in drumline in the state are mostly other metro schools, and the schools that Irondale will face in the WGI championships in less than two weeks span the gamut from small town enterprises to huge high schools. It's been an amazing experience and while we're ready for the next stage of her life, we'll miss these seasons.


R.A. Crankbait said...

Congratulations! When we moved back to my parent's home town - a small place in rural Missouri - in my junior year of high school, the high school teams weren't much (as evidenced by the fact that I made the basketball squad). We also weren't big enough at the time to field a football team. But the marching band was quite the over-achiever. They won some regional recognition and then were invited to march in the official Mardi Gras parade the next year.

The ensuing months of fund-raising were kind of crazy (my sister played alto sax in the band), with so much community support. Every business had signs and posters about supporting the band and raising the money needed to send them to New Orleans. IIRC, it was the unworldly sum of $10,000, which I doubt would barely cover an outing to Valley Fair for the Irondale band today. It was quite an experience for the band and a great source of community pride when they met their goal and marched in the parade. Not to mention it created lifetime memories for the musicians of the value of teamwork, cooperation and performance in service of a common goal.

Gino said...

i did my band years, and still talk to some of the people i marched with. I had a lot of fun and great experiences, not all of them wholesome. (what happens at a band party is better left there.)

we were one of the better bands in the region, and occasionally won large.
Like you said, it takes a lot to stay at the top.

there is a cluster of bands at that level that tend to switch places from year to year, but to repeat, or even threepeat, takes a level of discipline from every.single.person. one bad note from one of any 4 dozen horn players has made the difference more times than the outsider will know.
it's a team thing, but your better studs cannot cover for the weaker links, like say a few future HOFers on an NFL team... or a Rodgers at QB.

Congratulations to Maria, and the whole unit. they've earned it.

Mr. D said...

there is a cluster of bands at that level that tend to switch places from year to year, but to repeat, or even threepeat, takes a level of discipline from every.single.person. one bad note from one of any 4 dozen horn players has made the difference more times than the outsider will know.

That's 100% true. The people in the stands may not notice, but the judges never miss it. And our competitors put on some impressive performances every year. If IHS slipped even a little, the streak would end immediately.

Bike Bubba said...

What Gino says. And for my part, I'm super glad that the faux militaristic uniforms of the past are going. Heavy wool or polyester lined with more polyester....just what the heatstroke doctor ordered for parades in July!

It also strikes me that it's impressive how much the director matters. The band I was in was never the same after the "Godfather" left. (and yes, with the name Al Castronovo, yes, he could play the role) It was the right time for him to move on, since he was getting tired, but the other guys couldn't take his place. Most of the band would have walked on hot coals for the guy.

Mr. D said...

It also strikes me that it's impressive how much the director matters.

That makes a huge difference. Our director has been involved in the activity for many, many years.

The four judging criteria for winter drumline are:

Musical Effect
Visual Effect

Irondale’s best category is usually visual effect — our drill is generally among the best in the country in our class -- we won the caption for visual effect in the finals last season. That’s where the director comes in. The kids have to execute to make it work (the “visual” part), but a great drill design (the “visual effect”) gives you a chance from the outset. Music is our largest challenge, because most of our kids aren’t regularly percussionists — our frontline percussion in drumline has 20 members, but when we march in the fall, our frontline is usually half that size. And our batterie has 25 kids for drumline, but in marching band it’s significantly smaller. The regular percussionists handle the snares and the quads (tenors), but often we have horn line players playing the bass drums and cymbals. Maria is a percussionist and that’s why she is the center marimba, but plenty of the frontline kids are also on the horn line during the marching band season. That makes it tougher to compete, but we can usually find a way.

Gino said...

My band usually numbered less than forty, brought 55 to the game a few times, but also took on the big boys with 30 uniformed marchers.

We were never going to win visual and general effect when our competition is bringing 75 - 125 to the feild. Great directors, by sheer forrce of personality, bring huge numbers to the feild, there by upping their GE...
By default.

Our director was a 'music' guy. The music always came first.
And he challenged us: are you a musician? Or a showman?

In short, every player felt challenged to be better today than he was yesterday... Nobody was skating by on past success, first or second chair was decided every week... And the First chair loved it when they were held to account by a second chair... Encouraged them... I dare you!
Personal pride mattered.
And it made everybody better.

Go ahead, win sweepstakes with 26 members on the feild. Because 12 of your buddies were suspended due to things that happened on the last overniter...
Discipline, personal or communal, is what we were taught. (They only got 12... Should have been 20, I was proud to have ) 'gotten away', and been a leader on the drumline that day)