Strike up the bands

MARSHALL – The stands were packed, the judges were ready and hundreds of high school students from around the Upper Midwest were ready to march. But as much as they loved performing, participants in Saturday’s Pursuit of Excellence said it was just as much about the experience as the competition.

“It’s always fun,” said Jazmin Sanchez, a member of the Washington High School Marching Band from Sioux Falls, S.D. She and several of her bandmates were taking a break to watch other bands perform, before they took the field themselves.

Bands from around the Upper Midwest got their chance to shine during the 18th annual Pursuit of Excellence marching band competition. A total of 18 schools from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska gathered at Mattke Field at the Schwan Regional Event Center at Southwest Minnesota State University.

The competing schools represented a range of band and school sizes, in four different classes. The Rosemount High School Marching Band won sweepstakes honors in the ivory class, which included the largest bands competing. Bellevue West High School from Bellevue, Neb., won first place in the ivory class. Anoka High School took first place in the gold class. Hastings High School placed first in the crimson class, and Roosevelt High School from Sioux Falls, S.D., won first place in the Navy Class.

Students’ experiences at Pursuit involved a lot more than just their competition performances, however. The event is also a learning opportunity, with 11 judges from around the country holding clinics for participating bands.

“It’s good to get the opinion of the judges,” said Mikaela Rustand, a member of the Washington High School marching band. She and bandmate Sanchez said the clinics were a great opportunity to help improve their performances.

“It’s really cool to be able to do the clinic, because it’s one-on-one time with the judges,” said Rachel Bossuyt, a percussionist in the Marshall High School pit.

“They can help us out a lot with the small things that we need to fix,” added bandmate Addy Wolbaum.

Long hours of preparation went into each band’s performance. The week leading up to Pursuit meant plenty of extra practice for the MHS, Wolbaum said.

“We had a lot of extra practices, and really strict practices, too,” she said. “You have to be ready to go.”

Wolbaum and Bossuyt said Marshall’s show this year included some special twists for pit members, with a lot more movement and “getting into” the music. At the same time, their bandmates marching on the field were also getting into percussion. At different points throughout their performance, Marshall students brought out instruments like small hand drums and rain sticks in addition to the traditional brass and woodwinds.

Competing can be a little nerve-wracking – “It can be scary when a judge makes eye contact with you,” said Washington High School student Brenda Longoria. But students said it’s all part of the event.

“Once I start playing, I’m like, ‘OK, this is normal,'” Wolbaum said.

“I think it helps us do well,” said Caleb Schoenfelder, a sousaphone player for the Huron High School Marching Band in Huron, S.D. The Huron students were watching other schools compete after performing their own show, which was themed around the “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons from Mad Magazine.

“It was so much fun to work on,” said Huron color guard member Julieana Wallenstein.