FHS marching band wins first state championship since 2011

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published November 18, 2015

 FHS senior drum major Zach Simpson directs the marching band during its state finals performance Nov. 7 at Ford Field.

FHS senior drum major Zach Simpson directs the marching band during its state finals performance Nov. 7 at Ford Field.

Photo provided by Audrey Langley


FERNDALE — By the time the Ferndale High School marching band took to the field after 10 p.m. Nov. 7 at Ford Field, the state marching band judges had seen more than 40 performances throughout the day, including 11 other performances in Ferndale’s flight.

But the best was most certainly saved for last in Flight IV, as the FHS marching band was able to wow the judges and the audience with its Middle Eastern-themed performance and take home the state championship after a three-year drought.

“This group of kids did a better job of plugging away day after day,” FHS Band Director Elon Jamison said. “It is the nature of humanity to have bad days where we slide backwards, but this group of kids almost never did. They came in and went to work every day and got better at every rehearsal. We don’t know how the competition will be or how the judges will compare us to them, but we felt very confident all season.”

The FHS marching band had won three consecutive state championships before finishing in second, third and fourth place in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. Jamison said that even though the performances for the past three years had been very good, they had faced some stiff competition, including less than 1 point separating the top four bands in 2014.

Because the FHS marching band allows a select few eighth-graders to march, a handful of seniors in the band had experienced winning a state title, but senior drum major Zach Simpson was not one of them. For Simpson, winning the state title was an experience only matched by the ability as drum major to help the musicians grow this year.

“I joined the year after the last state title, so it felt really cool that I not only helped the band acquire a state championship, but I thought it was a cool way to end my time with the band,” Simpson said. “I don’t march; rather, (I) conduct the band, so seeing the first-year students evolve and become better humans all around was cool to see. Under the staff and mine and the junior drum majors’ direction, we helped change somebody’s life.”

Fellow senior Molly Minamyer was part of the 2011 state championship marching band, but after three years of not repeating that success, Minamyer, who serves as the trumpet section leader, said she felt this year’s championship may have been the best.

“The first one was amazing and the best feeling ever in my first year,” she said. “But after being down periodically over the years, this was almost like redemption. We have been doing so well for so long, and to drop off and come right back, that is better for me than winning in my first year.”

While a few decades ago a marching band only had to find a few pieces of music and play them during competitions, Jamison said now it is about more than just the music. The marching, the visuals and an overlaying theme all go into a team’s score during the state finals.

This year, the FHS marching band went the way of Middle Eastern influences, wearing several colors that represented sunlight and sand, as well as playing music with a Middle Eastern flavor, Jamison said.

Besides the overall state championship, which FHS was able to capture by more than a point’s difference, the Michigan Competing Bands Association also hands out caption awards for music, visual and general effects in each flight. With a complete performance, FHS was able to capture all three caption awards.

“At finals there are eight judges who look at music and visual on the field, music and visual ensemble, and four judging the general effect,” Jamison said. “General effect is like the wow factor, the moment that hopefully gets you to stand up and cheer and applaud. We did win all three, so it was gratifying to handily dominate by winning the first-place trophy and all three caption awards.”

The work toward a state championship doesn’t just begin when the school year starts in September; rather, it starts months before. Junior Sidnie Jackson, the piccolo section leader, said the band attended a weeklong camp in August that included nine-hour days of practicing, and separate sections started working together even before the previous school year ended.

Seeing the work ethic that went into this year and its culmination in a state championship, Jackson said she feels she can bring the same energy and enthusiasm into next year’s band.

“It was a lot of hours and time and dedication and working together that I think made us more successful,” she said. “The work ethic this year was different, and the atmosphere was different. I think it goes from the top down, from the seniors to juniors to the sophomores and freshmen, so I think we can bring back how we did this year and bring the work ethic and pass that along to other students.”

With 109 students contributing to the marching band this year, Jamison said he knows that not every student will go on to be a world-famous musician or even have a career in music, but he feels that being part of the marching band teaches students skills and lessons beyond music.

For senior clarinet section leader Isabella Kercorian, being part of the marching band for five years culminating in a state championship only confirmed what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

“I want to be a music teacher, and this season solidified that in my mind,” she said. “I love nothing more than teaching and watching people grow as musicians and marchers and human beings, and it has been magical to watch happen this year. This is why I want to teach for the rest of my life.”