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More than a bunch of hot air

Pursuit of Excellence competition brings some of Upper Midwest’s top marching bands to Marshall

September 22, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - One doesn't have to question whether members of the Marshall High School Marching Band are dedicated or not. They've been showing up week after week, practicing, sometimes in the evenings and oftentimes, before school begins. On Thursday, two days before hosting the annual Pursuit of Excellence competition, band members braved the cold, gathering on a makeshift football field in the school parking lot before 7 a.m.

"Up until the jazz run, I couldn't feel my legs," MHS junior Mara Morrill said. "It's real cold, but we're all dedicated."

Students and directors have put in a lot of time, Morrill said, in preparation for the 17th annual Pursuit of Excellence Southwest Minnesota Marching Band Festival today at Mattke Field at the Southwest Minnesota State University Regional Event Center, where a record-high number of bands will be in attendance.

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
During an early morning practice Thursday, members of the Marshall High School Marching Band polished their routine in preparation for the 17th annual Pursuit of Excellence competition today at the Regional Event Center on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University.

"I like it because it's kind of exciting," Morrill said. "We're all happy and ready for success this year. We want to go the extra mile, at least that what it feels like to me."

Along with 20 high school marching bands competing against each other, the MHS band and SMSU pep band will give exhibition performances. Although the Tiger band is not eligible to win since it hosts the competition, its performance will be judged. Along with the opportunity to perform in front of local fans, the show also serves as a good measure of where it's at, as a band at this point in the year.

"We're really good at some parts, but like (Thursday), we're working really hard on what needs to be fixed," Morrill said. "I think this band has so much potential. It's my little dysfunctional family, honestly. We put in a lot of hours, but it's a lot of fun."

Fact Box

Pursuit of Excellence schedule

Classes are determined by the number of winds and percussion.

Gates open at 4:30 p.m.

5:25 National anthem

Gold Class

1-50 Winds and Percussion

5:30 West Lyon HS, Inwood, Iowa5:45 Anoka HS, Anoka

6 ROCORI HS, Cold Spring

Crimson Class

51-75 Winds and Percussion

6:15 West High School, Sioux City, Iowa

6:30 Madison HS, Madison, S.D.

6:45 Andover HS, Andover

7 Huron HS, Huron, S.D.

7:15 Hastings HS, Hastings

7:30 Sibley Ocheyedan HS, Sibley, Iowa

7:45 Sheldon HS, Sheldon, Iowa


8 SMSU Mustang pep band

8:15 Gold Class and Crimson Class awards

Navy Class

76-100 Winds and Percussion

8:30 Central HS, Aberdeen, S.D.8:45 North HS, Sioux City, Iowa

9 Mitchell HS, Mitchell, S.D.

9:15 Washington HS, Sioux Falls, S.D.

9:30 Roosevelt HS, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Ivory Class

101+ Winds and Percussion

9:45 MOC Floyd Valley HS, Orange City, Iowa

10 Eden Prairie HS, Eden Prairie

10:15 Irondale HS, New Brighton

10:30 West HS, Bellevue, Neb.

10:45 - Lincoln HS, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Judged exhibition

11 Marshall High School

11:15 Navy Class and Ivory Class awards

The competition has gradually grown to such a degree that organizers have had to turn away bands.

"This year, I've had to turn down six bands," MHS band director Wayne Ivers said. "We could've had 28 bands in the show this year."

Organizers decided to cap the field competition at 20 to avoid having the show run too long or stretch the current accommodations too thin. With the 16 bands in attendance last year, a total of four clinician sites and 12 judges were used.

"Most shows have six judges," Ivers said. "They're from all over. It's a real draw for schools. So is the Regional Event Center. It's such a great place for bands to play."

The 20 participating bands, from Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota, are divided into four categories, based on the number of wind and percussion players in each.

"It's going to be bigger than it's ever been before," he said. "It's huge. It should be a really good show."

Ivers believes in addition to the quality clinics and stadium environment, the level of competition has helped bring so many talented bands to Marshall.

"We've never had to turn bands down, so with this many bands coming, we must be doing something right," he said.

One thing Ivers has noticed this year, having seen six or seven of the participating bands already at other shows, is that the level of competition has improved.

"There are a lot more polished groups," he said. "All the bands seem to be just a step up. I think we're better than last year but so is everybody else. I guess, if you don't step up you get left behind."

The MHS marching band, which has approximately 185 members, will perform "Letter from the Sky."

"We'll make constellations and stars on the field," Ivers said. "We'll finish in a black hole. It's fun. They're playing well and we keep adding to it."

Morrill, a flute player, believes the band could afford to work a little more on its music presence at times. Part of that, she said, relates to her own instrument.

"My flute is really flat when it's cold," she said. "So we always have to warm up our flutes by blowing hot air into it."

Interval control is something Morrill believes the entire band needs to be conscious of, as well of the spacing between each other.

"But we're working really hard to fix those problems," Morrill said. "Other than that, we're doing really good, especially compared to last year."

Junior Luke Versaevel, who plays French horn, thinks the band needs to tweak its dynamics when playing. He, too, has to be aware of the cold weather affecting the sound.

"Depending on the weather, your horn can go sharp or flat," Versaevel said.

For the most part, though, he said, the band is well-prepared.

"You just try to remember everything you're supposed to do," he said. "It's not that hard because you practice so much. I think we'll do pretty good."

Ivers promises there will be "a surprise" during the MHS exhibition performance.

"I hope we perform well," Ivers said. "It should be a pretty good show."



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