Continuing its tradition of excellence, the Petoskey High School Band took first place in A level competition at Kenowa Hills High School Saturday. They also won honors in the best music overall and boasted a 95, the top score of all bands in all classes for the day, including the larger bands in class AA.
Petoskey has consistently excelled in competitions with its well-respected marching band program of about 250 high school students. The total band program serves about 650 students in sixth through 12th grade with three team-teaching band directors.
“When we go to competitions, other bands who play earlier in the day stick around just to see Petoskey,” said Patrick Ryan, who directs the marching band and works with the brass sections.
“I worked in Charlevoix last year,” added director Duane Willson, who works with the woodwinds. “It’s true. Even if we played first, we always waited so our kids could see the Petoskey band.”
“We see a big change in the students after the first home game field show, and then after the first competition,” Ryan said. “All of a sudden, the things we have been drilling and teaching seem to make sense to them.”
The marching band competes in competitions annually. Petoskey also hosts a band festival during concert season.
Willson and Ryan have returned to teach at their alma mater, helping to continue the traditions started by former director Carl Brien and director Barry Bennett. Both Ryan and Willson were percussionists under Bennett’s tutelage when they were in high school.
“Specializing in woodwinds, brass and percussion has worked for us, because we all see the kids all the way through sixth through 12th grades. They see us for seven years. This gives us a lot of continuity in the program,” Bennett said. “They know what we expect.”
“It’s easier to diagnose, say, a problem in the woodwinds in the high school band, and fix it, while the kids are still in middle school,” Willson said. “We also get to know them really well and can help them develop individually as musicians and young adults.”
But there are a lot of factors that go into producing a top-rated band program. During marching season, color guard is led by Jim Kan and his assistants, Tracy Thomson, Steve Chase and Melissa Bobola. Chase and Thomson do the choreography for the color guard.
Brien has also returned, as a volunteer, to coach students on the field and act as a sounding board for Ryan as the new marching band director. Brien has helped Willson with the woodwinds in sixth grade.
“I always wanted to be back here, and I’m learning so much from Carl,” Willson said. “Already I have become 10 times the band director I was a year ago, just from his mentoring.”
In addition, three former graduates, two teaching interns, Kevin Wroblewski, from University of Michigan; Robbie Pemberton from Michigan State University; and Teach for America volunteer Ashley Moyer, an Alma College graduate, are helping out with the band.
Then, there are student leaders, three drum majors, and leadership in each section of the band.
The marching band drill design is contracted to an outside firm Joey Orefice, Ltd.
“In November, when marching season ends, we have already chosen the music for the next season’s show,” Ryan said. “We send the drill designers the taped music and our best guesstimates of how many students will be playing which instruments. Then, they design the show to those specifications.”
The band boosters raise more than $50,000 per year to keep the students in uniforms, and buy needed equipment. Band students are always doing fundraisers to help fund the program.
The young musicians also raise funds to support the band with their performances in the community at weddings and special occasions.
Once marching season has finished, the three directors change roles to lead concert bands. This year, there will be two jazz bands that will attend basketball games, the ever-popular steel drum band, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade bands, and two high school concert bands. According to Bennett, the percussion students are divided between the steel drum band and all of the other bands for the concert season. Again, the directors teach students of all levels, continuing to work in their specialty areas.
“Carl and Barry have created a culture and tradition of inspiring excellence, that we are continuing,” Ryan said. “Our students know if one student is missing, one student affects the entire group out there.”
Student commitment is demonstrated by the fact that after school is out in the summer, the band students commit two days a week for seven weeks to working with their sections and with the entire band on the next year’s show. Then, they attend a week-long band camp in the beginning of August.
Anyone who would like to volunteer or raise funds contact Band Booster president Alicia Webster, who teaches at Petoskey High School, at (231) 348-2166 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming opportunities to see the Petoskey High School Marching Band:
Saturday, Oct. 5, Cedar Springs competition
Friday, Oct. 11, Petoskey homecoming football game, halftime
Monday, Oct. 14, Traverse City exhibition, Thirlby Field (Petoskey takes the field at 9 p.m.)
Friday, Oct. 18, Petoskey football game, halftime
Saturday, Oct. 19, Jenison competition