by Emily Engle
On Saturday, November 15, the Bellbrook Marching Band took second place in the nation for their class in Grand Nationals competition, performing their show “Paris Sketches.”
Grand Nationals is the final, biggest competition in the season for marching bands across the country. It draws bands from dozens of states to compete in four days of competition (November 12-15 this year) and it is held in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This year, 94 bands competed in preliminaries, 35–including Bellbrook–advanced to semifinals, and 12 were selected for finals performance before a grand champion band was crowned.
Because bands can come in widely varying sizes, some with members numbering ten and others as large as 500, those competing at Grand Nationals are split into four classes: A, AA, AAA, AAAA, denoting size. Besides the overall grand champion declared at the end of finals, grand champions are declared for each class at the end of semifinals.
In the recent 2014 competition, Bellbrook took second place in Class A, the class for the smallest sizes of bands, with first place in Class A awarded to a Kentucky band, Adair.
Bellbrook’s show, “Paris Sketches,” was set in the city of Paris itself and depicted band members dancing, playing music, and acting out scenes as though in the French city. It featured music from “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, “Paris Sketches” by Michael Ellerby, and excerpts from “Ratatouille” by Michael Giacchino.
Bellbrook’s band members’ reactions to the win widely varied. Some members considered it a wild success, considering that to win second place, Bellbrook beat out dozens of other bands from across the nation. The same members also took pride in Bellbrook’s advancement to semifinals, a difficult feat as only about one-third of bands qualify. Until the 2013 season, in fact, Bellbrook hadn’t qualified for semifinals or placed in their class since 2009.
Other members, though, were disappointed by the second-place finish. After the three-year streak of not qualifying for semifinals, when Bellbrook made semis in the 2013 season and topped it off by winning Class A completely, band members were jubilant. Now in the 2014 season, despite making semis and placing second in the nation, many members feel let down. Throughout the 2014 competition season, Bellbrook went undefeated in Class A, and many expected a second win at nationals. Other band members, too, have described feelings of resentment after viewing Adair’s show: many felt Adair hadn’t performed at nearly the same difficulty level as Bellbrook had.
Senior Clay Barr echoed these same feelings about Adair; in his last year as a Bellbrook Marching Eagle, he believes his band’s show deserved to win. But overall, he’s still proud of their performance. As he described all of the outcomes he could have faced in his senior year, including not making it to semifinals or placing at all, he stated, “I’ll definitely take second in the nation!” Sophomore Mary Collins, though, is happy with the outcome. She stated, “[Adair] worked just as hard as we did.”
Senior Eric Siefert added similar thoughts, saying, “Honestly, I thought [our] show was better, but I don’t really care too much about placements. I prefer the experience over placements.” And sophomore Ceci Dale had nothing but positive thoughts after Saturday’s competition, saying, “I don’t care if anyone says that we lost to a terrible band. We still got second place in our class out of 30 other bands. Plus we made semifinals, which 60 other bands didn’t get to do. I am proud that we did that.”
Band director Chris Foster is just as proud of their season; he believes Adair and Bellbrook can’t be compared at all, saying, “It’s a subjective art form. Look at a Picasso versus a Monet. What’s better? You can’t; you can’t say. They’re both pieces of art. It all depends on people’s interpretation at the time. A judge could be looking over here when there’s something really cool happening on the other side of the field. You never know what they’re looking at. We can try to direct their attention with the show and have people point like, ‘Look over here,’ but it’s subjective. And really, who cares? We had a great season. This was a really young band. They did better than [the staff] thought [they] would; we didn’t think that we would achieve as much since we lost so many seniors last year. And we have such a small senior class this year: eighteen [seniors]. Last year we had thirty-seven. Ridiculous amount. But they achieved a lot.”
And as Foster said, it is difficult to compare show to show, even for professional judges: “There is a subjectivity to being a judge, because when you’ve got thirty-five bands that you’re looking at [in semifinals] and you know that they’re kind of placed off of [preliminary] score, you’ve got to make sure that when you first start to rank things, you can’t overinflate numbers. ‘Start low’ is the first rule of judging. So you have a lot more room to play around with numbers at the top. It’s hard.”