Band playing for state berth
By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Dowagiac's Chieftain Marching Band made the playoffs, too.
Union High Band Director Josh Bartz delivered a pep talk worthy of football Head Coach Mike Stanger as Dowagiac journeys to Durand Saturday to battle Grant, a community northeast of Muskegon, for one of 10 state berths.
Bartz stoked his musicians' imaginations by evoking memories of performing on Ford Field in Detroit.
"I couldn't put my head back far enough to see the ceiling," he said of the stadium where the Lions play professional football and the Rolling Stones perform concerts. "It's that high up. When you march, it's just seats. Oh, by the way, there's a 7.5-second echo, just so you know."
Junior Drum Major Chelsea McIntyre is already plenty motivated.
Even though "I can't feel my toes" in Tuesday night's 44-degree temperatures (when their sweaty bodies meet the chill night air at the end of a 2 1/2-hour rehearsal, their heads are steaming), Chelsea warms to the challenge ahead.
"We have improved tremendously," the flute player said. "I'm so excited, I cannot wait for Saturday. We're definitely (peaking at the right time). My eighth grade year, (senior Drum Major) Aislinn's (Frantz) freshman year, they were like four-tenths away from going to state. To think that we're three-tenths, it can be either incredible or heartbreaking."
As chilly as Chelsea McIntyre felt, color guard junior Chelsea Whiteoak was "really, really hot" running up and down the field with her flag in short sleeves.
Orange gloves are her only concession to cold which had trombonist Eric Morton wearing a green hat that would have looked at home deer hunting and made scarves essential fashion accessories.
"When you have cold, stiff hands, it messes up everything," Chelsea said. "Chelsea Allison broke her finger at festival because of the cold weather. You just stiffen up, but you have to work through it and tell yourself it's 80 degrees, we're going to do this and we're going to do it right."
Chelsea started fifth grade playing clarinet, but she's one of a few guard members who is no longer an instrumental musician.
She sang in choir, so her time in band "is like having another family. The guard family can get so annoying sometimes you want to strangle them, but having someone to lean on and know that they're going through the same stuff really motivates you to do better."
"We have had better rehearsals" than Wednesday night, Chelsea Whiteoak agreed, "but we're all trying to give 110 percent because we all want to go to state. All of the guard wants to go to state. We're really pushing for it. Our seniors missed it by tenths of a point their freshman year and they really want it, which makes us want it that much more."
With his band family gathered around him at midfield at the end of a long night, Bartz said, "We have to make the final changes we're going to make to this show, or it's getting its last performance Saturday. Or, we have a really exciting week ahead of us.
"Right now, the show is leaving us musically unfulfilled. By the end of the show, we're not performing. We're marching dots and playing music. We have to push it past that so we are presenting a musical art form on the field that makes the crowd talk about us on the way home. Has Dowagiac ever done this? No. This is new territory for all of us. We have that kind of show right now, we're just not performing it.
"The only difference between bands like us and Durand is that they're performing their show. We want the field and stands to meld as one so they feel they are part of the performance and they are so engulfed in what we're doing that when it ends, it's like a really great movie where you want two more hours. That's the level we need.
"You've not been there, but we need to get there," Bartz said. "The rest of this week is going to be focused on that. You're going to hurt, but we can't roll over and die. We are too close, folks. Seniors, we've been working at this for four years together. Let's not have another, 'Gosh, we were almost there.' I'm sick of that speech. I don't want to give it anymore. I hate apologizing. Why not us? Why not this year? Why Grant? Forget Grant!
"The football team is going into the playoffs. We are, too, and we need to go into this weekend bouncing around in the end zone like the football team. That's the intensity we need for every moment of rehearsal. I need math teachers coming to me and saying, 'We've got to have this band thing end because it's so distracting during class.'
"We either give 110 percent for the next four days or that's the only energy we have to give because we're done. We can give it all now and extend it or give half of it now and be done. Those are the options. I don't think we've worked the last 10 weeks to come home from Durand and say, 'Have a nice trip to Detroit, Grant.' I don't think we want that. Let's have another 18-point increase. Why not? We did it once."
This is the band's third marching competition, after Allegan and Jenison.
Bartz was in "cleaning" mode all night, chiding his charges on "roll stepping to the sky – I should be able to read the bottom of your shoes from up here," "lazy pivots" and "running out of gas" in musical passages which must maintain their luster until the very last note.
He reminds them to be "graceful and use all of your muscles" when they rise from a kneeling formation. "You look like 45-year-old men trying to get up off the floor. You can't wobble all around when you stand up. That looks very, very bad. I know you're tired, but we have all week to recover from this rehearsal. This rehearsal should be kicking you in the pants the rest of the week.
"Come in tomorrow to class ready to work our tails off to make up those two-tenths and another two-tenths. Every time we run back, we've got to choose to turn on everything we know how to do. I need for you to choose to be standing on Ford Field 15 days from now" before seven judges. "Make that decision right now. Practice how we're going to perform so I can take this rehearsal and clean more tomorrow."
"There are some things out of our control, but there are some things in our control that we didn't do very well, like people talking and moving around. It's not a sign we can't do it, it's a sign we chose not to tonight. The blessing of the trimester right now is that we still have three one-hour rehearsals and a two-hour rehearsal on Saturday," he said.
Bartz is constantly consulting Ashley Martin, his color guard instructor.
The young woman wearing a Central Michigan University sweatshirt comes by her Chippewa maroon-and-gold naturally, as she lives in Mount Pleasant, where she instructs dance.
"My sister is a band director in Benton Harbor," Martin explained. "This is my fourth year overall, my first year here. I was in color guard in high school in Mount Pleasant. I live down here a couple of days a week with my sister and do a couple of schools. That helps" offset her three-hour drive.
"They look good. I'll be excited to see them in competition on Saturday," Martin said.
"Every single person needs to add their sound all the time. That gives us an opportunity to clean and make it better and gives you an opportunity to be comfortable with what you're doing. If it hurts, push. If you're running out of breath, push harder, so the next time it's easier," Bartz barks at the other student-athletes. "Every time you do something that challenges your body, your body will react by making it stronger."