Vikings, Lakers rank among Michigan’s top bands

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 20, 2013

 The West Bloomfield marching band performs to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” during the state finals competition.

The West Bloomfield marching band performs to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird” during the state finals competition.

Photo by Donna Agusti

WALLED LAKE — Adding a third win to their musical history, the 200-member Walled Lake Central marching band placed first in its class among Michigan’s top high school bands at Ford Field for the Michigan Competing Band Association State Finals Nov. 2.

The undefeated Walled Lake Central Vikings have attended the state final competition every year since 1998, claiming victory in 2010 and 2011. And with a score of 91.55 out of 100, the marching warriors seized a third title, offering the Vikings a chance to compete again at nationals against the best bands in the country.

Displaying intensity, passion, integrity and kinship, senior and center drum major Stephanie Mackenzi said she felt amazement on Ford Field as the band performed its “Conquest,” to the music of H. Owen Reed’s “La Fiesta Mexicana,” Alberto Ginestera’s “Estancia Suite” and Arturo Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2.”

“The whole marching band experience has taught me so much in being a better person,” Mackenzi said. “It’s what you get from the program and the process. It’s been the best thing that I’ve done in high school so far.”

The drum majors lead the students by running rehearsals and conducting the pieces.  Mackenzi said that in order to inspire the band, the drum majors must lead by exemplifying their passion.

Prior to the state finals, the Vikings performed in four competitions, allowing the band association to take the average of their highest scores in order to rank them. Officially, David Rogers, band director, said that the marching band was ranked No. 2 in its flight before finals, though they beat the No. 1 band at every competition in which the two participated.

Rogers said that this year, they decided to cultivate a powerful show around Conquistador-themed music, showcasing colorful and exciting compositions. In addition to the woodwinds, brass, percussion and color guard, he said that this year, they also had a small section of chime ringers made up mostly of younger siblings who wanted to assist the band.

The marching Vikings devoted approximately 200 summer hours to mastering their performance, and once school began, they practiced around 15 hours a week.

“I’m really happy for everybody involved in this,” Rogers said. “We worked exceptionally hard, and it was a nice award.”

Walled Lake Central will execute its finely tweaked “Conquest” in the national competition Nov. 15-17. In the past, Walled Lake Central marching band has ranked as high as 21st in the country, and Rogers said he looks forward to the band’s future achievements.

For the eighth consecutive year, the 76-member West Bloomfield High School band also marched down Ford Field, demonstrating their talent. Like Walled Lake Central, the West Bloomfield Lakers participated in four competitions prior to the state finals, ranking in the top 12 of their flight.

With a score of 75.7, the Lakers ended up finishing 12th at state finals, but ranking amongst the top bands in the state was a big accomplishment, said Chad Mielens, Lakers’ band director. In 2008, the band won the state championship for the first and only time. Between 2006 and 2011, the band placed in the top five yearly. Mielens said that he thinks the reason the band dropped in the ranks this year was due to the level of competition.

“We compete against some big bands (up to 300 members), and some of the bands have some really good shows. Our score actually isn’t that much lower than in the past. I think the competition around us went up,” he said.

The band, which is made up of woodwinds, brass, a drum line and a front ensemble, has always been relatively small in size, but they have felt that their talent matched that of a bigger band. Mielens said that the kids latch onto the small size and want to prove themselves going into competitions.

“We’re smaller, but we’re just as good as anybody else,” he said.

The Ford Field performances had to be at least seven minutes long, and West Bloomfield performed three separate movements from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet “Firebird.”

“We did the best ever for our 2013 show scene, and we felt really good about our performance after we all came off the field,” said Brandon Crawford, ninth-grade student at the high school. Crawford auditioned for the marching band while attending Abbott Middle School, and he put on the uniform while he was in the eighth grade.

“It’s exciting that I got to go for two years in a row, especially since we’re in the top 12 — that just means a lot. We worked hard and long. It wasn’t easy, but it paid off at state finals,” he said.

Crawford said the practices were not easy, as they trained six to seven hours a day throughout the month of August, excluding weekends. When the school year commenced, the practice schedule changed to three days a week after school for three hours.

“The amount of hours of commitment and dedication that these people put into the marching band … it’s such an eye-opener to what these kids put into a performance and every weekend when they go out and give it their all,” said Suzanne Crawford, mother to Brandon Crawford and a Band Booster parent in charge of communications and media relations. “To watch them improve throughout the whole season is just amazing.”

While the marching band’s season has come to an end, the experience of state finals will live on for the students. Mielens said they have been focusing not on their overall score, but on the complete experience and the process it took to get to the finals.

“Building a work ethic and camaraderie: we did those things this year,” he said.