There are coaches. There are position players. There are seemingly endless practices and spirited, exhaustive competitions. A massive amount of work is involved each season, and each season ends with an even more massive feeling of accomplishment.
Football? Soccer? Volleyball? Cross-country? Wrong on all counts. This is competitive marching band, and no group has been better in recent years than the marching band at Rosemount High School.
They have been crowned the Minnesota state champions for the past six years. They have been a finalist at the Bands of America National Super-Regionals at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for seven years running. They annually march in the Minnesota State Fair parade and were named the fair’s championship marching band for the past four years. They have performed at World Series games, American League divisional playoffs and Vikings games … even a Green Bay Packers home game.
The Rosemount marching band – and all competitive marching bands – do much more than high-step around the field and play music. Their shows are a cross between Broadway and the Big Ten, a mix of dance, gymnastics, acrobatics, symphony, rock & roll, jazz and the blues.
Bands design and rehearse a different field show each fall. The Rosemount show this year is titled “Don’t Stop” and features music from Ravel’s “Bolero,” Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Journey and Queen. The Rosemount band has 175 members, and they began rehearsals for the 2012 season in mid-July.
By the first day of school in September, the band had already practiced for eight weeks, usually four days each week for three and a half hours each day, with specialists like the color guard and percussionists working even longer hours.
“When we talk to the kids, prospective students, we compare it to going out for a varsity sport,” said Steve Olsen, who is in his 14th year as a band director at Rosemount. “Because it’s not an MSHSL sport, we can start whenever we want in the summer. Our season’s a little longer, but we’re kind of done before the football season is done.
“We get two reactions (from newcomers to marching band). When they actually see it, their first reaction is ‘I could never do this. I’m not good enough.’ But we tell them it’s baby steps; the left foot goes here and the right foot goes here.”
The other band directors at Rosemount are Leon Sieve, who is in his 10th year there, and Bojan Hoover, a second-year staff member. The student leaders this fall are drum majors Emily Luckhardt, Sam Breyer, Devon Lawrence and Mitchell Mussell. All are seniors, and all played instruments before becoming drum majors.
Asked about the duties of the drum majors, Breyer said, “We set up our rehearsal field, we’re here early every day. We lead stretching, we conduct all the music be it warmups or show excerpts. We always conduct everything.”
The band is further broken down into sections by instrument (plus the color guard, drumline and sideline percussionists), and each section has its own leaders.
The band spends a week at St. John’s University every July, drilling, rehearsing and bonding. St. John’s football coach John Gagliardi – the winningest coach in college football history -- is a regular visitor to the band’s rehearsals.
“John Gagliardi always comes around and says hello,” Olsen said. “He always remarks on how hard these guys work and the discipline they have. He says the admissions office should give scholarships to these kinds of kids.”
All that work, long before the school year begins, allows band members to forge new friendships that carry over when classes start.
“We’re a huge family, it’s really fun,” Luckhardt said. “At the start of the season you might not know a whole lot of people, but as the season goes on you progressively start to build bigger and better relationships. The whole band really just becomes one. Walking into school on the first day, especially back in my freshman year, it’s a huge deal being able to say, ‘Hi, I know you, you’re a senior.’ You’re able to say hi to a lot more people than you would in other activities.”
Luckhardt -- whose father, Jerry Luckhardt, is associate director of bands at the University of Minnesota and former director of the Gophers marching band -- said the commitment of time and work required by the band members is “definitely a second life. We go to band camp and we had drum major camp, that’s an extra 12 days. It takes a lot of blood, sweat, hours and tears to put in a show. But it’s worth it in the long run. Once the season’s done you look back and you can’t even tell how many hours you put in because it goes by so fast and we’re such a family. It’s fun.”
Parents are a big part of competitive marching bands, too, volunteering to build props, sew color guard costumes, load trucks (Rosemount has its own semi-trailer for carrying equipment to competitions) and helping set up and take down equipment at shows.
“There is a fleet of parents behind the scenes,” Olsen said. “It’s a whole community kind of thing. Parents take a lot of pride in it.”
Competitions are held at several schools around the state, including Eden Prairie, Eastview, Irondale, Waseca, Luverne, Marshall, Worthington, Champlin Park and others. This year’s Rosemount Marching Band Festival, held Sept. 15, attracted 18 bands from three states and 6,000 spectators. Bands are judged and scored by experts in various categories, including music performance (individual and ensemble), visual effect (individual and ensemble), and music and visual general effects.
The 2012 Minnesota season will end with the Youth In Music state championships at the Metrodome on Oct. 14. The Bands of America National Super-Regionals in St. Louis will be held Oct. 20-21.
Olsen said it’s his hope that band members take away more than musical skill when the season – and their high school career – comes to an end.
“It’s camaraderie, teamwork, a sense of achievement and pride in the fact that hard work pays off,” he said. “What you put into this you’re going to get out of it, and working together as a team you can accomplish literally anything. Setting goals and achieving them is fun.
“I’ve always been a big believer in the arts and supporting live music. Nowadays, with so much technology around us, it’s so easy to put earbuds in and live in your own world. We want to get an emotional reaction from the audience; that’s the transforming power of the arts. It’s something the students want to be part of for the rest of their lives. They can go on to get involved in a community band, support their own kids in band, support the U of M marching band. There’s something really special about that live interaction with something that’s creative and visceral.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 183
*Miles John has driven: 2,991
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn