As the Ferndale High School Marching Band entered Ford Field on Saturday, a roar rose from the stands as about 200 parents and Golden Eagles fans showed support for the perennial champions, back to vie for another title.
The Ferndale boosters weren't disappointed.
Ferndale beat its rival, Byron Center, and nine other schools to capture first place in the Flight III division at the Michigan Competing Band Association State Championship, the Golden Eagles' sixth title in the past seven years.
Led by drum majors Jordan Haines and Avery Gaden, the Golden Eagles delivered a well-executed performance of "Interstellar Suite," a moving show built around the concept of an adventure through the night sky.
A member of the MCBA since 1989, the Golden Eagles marching band has placed in the top 10 at the state championships every year since 1991. In addition to six first-place titles, the band earned third-place finishes in 2003 and 2008.
In addition to the state title, Ferndale also brought home the awards for best marching and best general effect. The awards recognized the moving and mystical visual effect of "Interstellar Suite's" choreography, paired with the artistically challenging and adeptly arranged musical selections.
Musical selections included John Adams' "Wild Nights," "Asphalt Cocktail" by John Mackey, "Song for Lyndsay" by Andrew Boysen, and "Enigma Variations" by Edward Elgar. Chosen by a committee of staff members, the works were arranged for the band by its director, Elon Jamison.
Said Shaheedah Brissett, a member of the Ferndale High Color Guard, of the win: "We just went out and did our best, and that was good enough!"
The scene beforehand
Ford Field was alive with shiny brass instruments, flashy color guard costumes, and throngs of students and families. Bands rehearsed in the streets outside of the arena, while others lined up in the tunnel to the field, waiting for their turn to perform.
Members of the Ferndale Color Guard evoked the night sky theme with costumes in shades of purple and glittering silver, while musicians donned the traditional black and gold marching uniform. Fans in the stands showed their Ferndale pride with T-shirts and hoodies bearing an "Interstellar Suite" logo, created especially for the 2010 show.
Students were brimming with excitement as they lined up in the tunnel, preparing for what one called "the biggest moment of the season." Clustered in groups, they anxiously chattered about their upcoming entrance. But when one of their captains gave a directive, they didn't miss a beat, remaining focused on the task at hand.
Asked what the most challenging aspect of the performance was going to be, one junior guard member said it was getting used to the field. With its carefully counted steps practiced countless times at Ferndale High, translating the drill to the larger professional field is no small task.
A hush came over the crowd as Jordan and Avery lifted their arms in a signal to begin playing. The two students conducted the 120-student ensemble like seasoned professionals, poised in their command of the group.
The music that rang through the stadium was not what one might imagine to be standard marching band repertoire. A seamless interweaving of contemporary pieces combined with excerpts from the beloved symphonic works of Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst, "Interstellar Suite" ran the gamut of musical effects and range of emotions.
The sensitivity with which the young musicians played, combined with the swirling visual effects of the Color Guard, captivated judges and audience members alike. Ferndale finished with a score of 83.62, its highest of the season.
And the winner ...
At the conclusion of the final performance, results were announced one by one, beginning with 11th place. Tension was palpable as the announcer prepared to name the second place winner, and it was down to Ferndale and Byron Center.
"It's always between us and this band," said Stacey Jamison, Elon's wife and a member of the wind instruction staff. "They have a very large group, and they always sound good."
In the end, even the commendable performances given by the Byron Center and Lakeshore bands couldn't beat "Interstellar Suite." The two schools placed second and third, respectively, with scores of 82.28 and 81.75. As second place was announced, a sea of smiles appeared on the faces of the Ferndale students in anticipation of hearing their school named winner of the 2010 state finals.
"I couldn't ask for more," said Jason McIntosh, visual caption head and the man behind the show's impressive drill design (choreography). "Each time we've hit the field has been better than the last – there has never been a step backwards. There was not a point in their performance where I thought, 'If only we'd had more time to practice that' ... they did what they can do."
The road to finals
"The students' work ethic continues to improve all the time," Elon Jamison said of his band during a pre-competition rehearsal. "That's why they are where they are...they set out to do their very best in every rehearsal."
In his 13th season with the marching band and seventh as head director, Jamison is confident in his students' ability as well as their strength of character. "They're the nicest kids...they're very supportive of each other. The upperclassmen mentor the younger students both on and off the field."
"Student leadership is rewarded here," stated Haines of his and Gaben's positions as drum majors. "It is our job to make sure everyone is on the same page – to communicate with the band directors and be ready to change and reconfigure at any moment."
In preparation for the football and competition seasons, the band begins rehearsing in the spring. Activities continue through the summer, with a trip to Interlochen for band camp every year. Rehearsal schedule intensifies as performances become more frequent in the fall, and competitions are often preceded by extended Saturdays on the field.
Inclusion in the State finals depends on a band's scores in competitions throughout the season. They compete within "flights," based on high school enrollment numbers. Ferndale falls within Flight III, made up of schools with enrollments of 740 to 1,146 students.
Though the Golden Eagles approached Saturday's competition with high expectations, a sixth championship title for the band was not seen as a given. "It's always a nail biter at finals," explained Cathy Greer, chairwoman of the marching band parents committee and mother of junior guard captain, Ashley Greer. "Sometimes, the difference between first and second place is just a few tenths of a point."
Ashley's sister, sophomore Hayley Greer, described her own feelings about the MCBA Finals: "Its exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. We actually have competition this year. ... The competition gets us on our toes and get us working."
This article was corrected at 11:13 a.m. for a misspelling.