At The Top of Their Game

November 14, 2009

In a darkened high school cafeteria, 350  Michigan and Indiana students and a few dozen parents hold their breath and stare at the video screen that holds their fate.  Six months of intense rehearsals have led up to this moment.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars from communities near Detroit and Indianapolis have been privately raised to make possible only nine minutes of choreographed excellence.

Twelve miles away, a stadium is filled with several thousand more people who watch the results live.

We hope to hear those magic words that signal our advancement to the next step.

Families throughout Carmel, Indiana this week opened their homes to 150 marching band members from Walled Lake Central High (not far from Detroit.)

During preliminary competition at the massive new stadium in downtown Indianapolis, an section of students rises and cheers as the Carmel Marching Greyhounds take the field.  The cheering section is the entire entourage from Walled Lake, who performed earlier in the day.  The surprise welcome feels great.  Almost 24 hours later, mutual admiration is returned as an entire stadium erupts in applause to welcome “our neighbors from the north,” as the Carmel band director so appropriately commented.

And while the Carmel band is enormous (nearly 200 students are on the field), the truly impressive statistics come from Walled Lake Central — where their 150-member band includes 10 percent of the student body.
Their show is marvelous — a humorous take on spy movies featuring an impressive all-band tango sequence.

Carmel’s show is equally dramatic, with snippets of Bach, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy and featuring virtuoso players on cello, piano, and flute (with the pianist playing while moving on a giant fulcrum that represents the scales of justice.)  In the crisp fall air, the full force of the band’s powerful performance almost knocks you back in the stands.  All of those days of 7:00AM and late afternoon rehearsals culminate in this performance.  They are ready to give it their all at the annual Bands of America Grand National Championships in downtown Indianapolis — IF they advance.

91 bands compete this year.  Only about one in three will make it to the morning semifinals, and a more select group will compete before tens of thousands of band fans.

The kids sit together, teenagers who share a love of music, fun, pizza, and texting on their cellphones. Until this week, they were strangers.  Now they rally around each other like brothers and sisters.

“We will be cheering you on in the finals,” pledges the Walled Lake band director, uncertain if his band will advance during this first visit to the national competition.

And then the moment is here.

34 bands are being named to semifinalist status.

The disembodied voice on the other end of the Internet connection calls out Carmel High School as a semifinalist, and the room erupts in applause.  The kids from both schools are ecstatic.

More bands are called out, including some familiar from previous contests.

And then he says “Walled Lake Central…” and a silent room of 400 erupts in wild applause.  Parents grab their cell phones and BlackBerries to share the news as tears stream down their faces.

The kids can’t believe it, either.

For this one moment, all is right in the world.

Hugging and cheering, the preparations begin for another competition — this time at the top of their game.

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2 Responses to “At The Top of Their Game”

  1. Adam Joes Says:

    We, the families of the Carmel Marching Band were made better by the presence of the amazing families of Walled Lake.

  2. Barbara Dwyer Says:

    VERY nice article!

    Adam, thank you and we at Walled Lake were equally made better by the presence of Carmel families, the incredible welcome we received and the amazing hospitality of ALL of the Carmel parents, staff and students.

    Thank you for the experience of a lifetime.


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