BREMEN — Oct. 13 may have been a typical Saturday for most, but not so for those associated with Bremen’s Emerald Alliance. Rather, that date was the one where the band made its mark on school history, becoming the first Bremen marching band program to compete at Franklin Community Schools (just south of Indianapolis) in the semi-state competition.
Bremen Public Schools’ Director of Bands Matthew Sutton said it was a challenge the students proved they were up to.
“We knew we had a chance from the beginning,” he said of the win. “Part of the students’ goal for this season, in addition to creating a great show, was to advance to the semi-state competition. When we did accomplish that goal, all of the parents and students were elated that their hard work was recognized by the judges.”
Oct. 27 was the second date those musicians, their leaders, friends and family members will never forget. It was the day they learned if their seven-minute performance was enough for judges to deem if they would be continuing on to perform at Lucas Oil Stadium, as one of the top ten bands in the state allowed that privilege in the Class D level of band competition. Unfortunately, their performance didn’t meet the judges’ approval so their journey ends for this year’s competitions — but for many of the students — there’s always next year. And their accomplishment of getting that far in itself is one that will long be remembered by them, their director, educators, peers, families and community.
In 1977 the Bremen Marching Band did make it to state competition but within an organization that no longer exists. Members of the Emerald Alliance were the first to get beyond the regional level of competition since 1980, when the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) was formed.
Sutton explained how the marching band competitions work.
Six judges — three for different categories of visual performance, and three for musical performance — use a large set of skills to look for, and their scores are averaged to obtain a final tabulation. Judges are selected by ISSMA from respected professionals in the educational music industry from all over the country and are flown in for competition.
Bremen’s Emerald Alliance competes in Class D, the smallest school division in marching band (class sizes are determined by the size of the school). It has 29 performing members this year who played pieces from the musical “Wicked,” (arranged by the Carmel Band Director Richard Saucedo).
ISSMA hosted a playoff system for marching bands that works as follows for each class:
Week 1 — Districts
Everyone who earns a “Gold” or superior rating moves on to regionals.
Week 2 — Regionals
The top 10 schools by score at each regional (there are two) moves on to semi-state.
Week 3 — Semi-state
The top 10 schools by score at the semi-state location move on to State Finals.
Week 4 — State finals
The final 10 compete and are ranked from first through tenth for a final performance at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Before these competitions are a series of invitational tournaments hosted by individual schools, usually using the same judging system,” Sutton explained. “These students have worked incredibly hard, and sometimes are the ‘unsung heroes’ at the school, as many other students are not aware of the effort it requires to be successful. I have really enjoyed getting the chance to teach these students, and they have developed a level of talent for which I am intensely proud.”
He said that regardless of the outcome Saturday, the group had already done something never done before.
“As long as they performed at their best, I am very happy with their accomplishments,” Sutton said. His pride of the students’ proficiency is well warranted. Band members work hundreds of hours to create a single seven-minute show. Practices began Aug. 1 with two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsals of four to six hours a day — and that was before they had any idea they would be competing at such as distinguished level.
“When school started, we began a schedule of rehearsing every day during school, and twice a week in the evening for one to two hours before going to competitions,” Sutton said. “Many of these students are also on sports teams, and so their schedules are especially intense. In addition, many students spend uncounted hours at home, practicing their parts of the routines and music.”
To celebrate the win that took them to semi-state, band parents decorated the band room in celebration for the students.
“I cannot stress enough how hard it is to perform at this high level in marching band,” Sutton explained of the standards of critique the students must excel. “Students involved, from any school, can tell you a lot about the hours of sacrifice necessary to create a quality show.”
Prior to the semi-state competition Sutton said even if the students didn’t continue on he wouldn’t be able to think of anything they could’ve done differently to incur a different outcome.
“These students work and work and work, without complaining, for hundreds of hours,” he continued. “They have performed in hail, in 55 degrees and rain, and in the cold. They have rehearsed at 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. They continue to show and develop incredible discipline to create such a show, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These students are to be commended.”
Bremen’s 2012 Emerald Alliance members included (from left): first row (kneeling) — Jordan Walters, Chandler Bamburg, Tiffane Walter, Anna Borkholder, LaurieAnne Wickens, Lorinda Kline, Dania Alvarado, and Joie Richardson; second row — Ashley Manns (asst. Guard instructor), Shauna VanVactor, Shianne Mammon, Ariel Penrose, Robbie Compton, Amanda Spearman, and Heidi Prawat; third row — Sarah Wesselhoft (Guard instructor), Olivia DeLaGarza, Cole McCord, Justin Hyde, Regan Murphy, Kaitlyn Ahlenius, Jazsper SilverRaven, Chantz Stover, and Matthew Sutton (Band director); and fourth row — Nick Bonebrake, Salvador Perez, Kris Wickens, Ben Nick, and Will Sanchez-Ulloa.
Not pictured are Giovanni Escalante and Zach Compton.