Brandywine High School band prepares for competition

Published 9:35 am Thursday, March 21, 2019

NILES — To have perfect harmony in a high school band, there are a few components needed. One of the most important line items is enough musicians.

When Ruth Livengood first became band director at Brandywine Middle and High School in 2012 that seemed like it might be a problem. There were, after all, only 11 students in the band. It was not even enough to form a marching band.

“It was so small that you couldn’t march with that many kids,” Livengood said.

Since then, Livengood has seen the high school band grow to roughly 70 students this year, while the program itself has grown to more than 200 students. Youth participation, however, is not the only thing that the Brandywine band has seen strides in the last couple of years.

For four years in a row, the concert band has achieved a division one rating at the district band and orchestra festival. This year, for the first time in decades, the concert band will have the opportunity to showcase their skills at a statewide competition in Paw Paw this April.

Looking back on the growth of the band, Livengood said there are a couple of things she believes contributed.

Some changes were administrative, like the district helping her to adjust the band to fit more students’ schedules. Inspiring youth in the classroom and making them feel like they were part of a musical family was also key, she said.

“We spend time team building, and we talk about how to treat each other,” Livengood said. “Fostering a healthy student-teacher relationship has really helped.”

Another component of encouraging youth to be part of the band is connecting them with the music they are learning about. Livengood said she tries to incorporate modern songs in addition to the traditional pieces that students learn.

“We definitely do more modern songs that the kids know,” Livengood said. “I will sometimes have the kids play rhythm with karaoke tracks. Like there is a direct correlation between the music they listen to and they can make that connection between the band and what they do in class. They can play rhythm to whoever you want to say, Ed Sheeran or whoever.”

Students in the band have also individually achieved some mile markers. This past weekend, 10 band students earned a division one ranking in a solo and ensemble festival.

“We don’t know that that has ever happened at Brandywine,” Livengood said. “It’s just really cool that it has happened since we almost went away as a band program. [Not] only have we come back [but] to come back and thrive is really cool for this small band.”

Students who are involved in band learn skills they can utilize for the rest of their lives, Livengood said. In addition to learning to play an instrument, she said she expects band students to be a little more prepared when they go to a job interview or have to make a presentation because they are already used to performing and thriving under pressure.

“Band is all about performing,” Livengood said. “You have to put your product out there for the world to see.”

Livengood attended River Valley High School in Three Oaks. She continued her education at Western Michigan University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in trombone performance.

In the next couple of weeks, Livengood said the concert band would continue to fine tune the pieces they are preparing for the state competition. To do so, Livengood said they would record their practices and listen to the recording. Giving each other feedback as they close in the on the competition will also be crucial to performing their best, Livengood said. 

Looking to the future, Livengood said she hopes to see the band keep achieving greatness.

“Overall, though, [I want to maintain] a culture of positivity in the band program,” Livengood said.