Under the direction of David Larzelere, the number of students in marching band has more than tripled its original group of 50 members since he accepted the position as Band Director at East Lansing High School in 2010. As the number of students participating in band continues to grow, the high school band program has been divided into three bands. Eight years ago, fifteen to twenty new members joined the band annually. This year, there are more than 60 new members. As the band’s size continues to increase, so does the level of performance.
During Larzelere’s eight years, the marching band has not entered any competitions, until now. “I was actually encouraged by student leadership.” Larzelere said. “We had students who have friends that participate in competitions and asked me why we never do; they were willing to make some sacrifices with our calendar, and it fit in perfectly this year.”
“It’s just another way of elevating our performance,” explains Larzelere. “The neat thing about it is it will be based off of a percentage, so that if we get an 85 percent, we’ll know that we’re good, but we have some things to improve, and hopefully that will motivate students even more.”
In competition, marching bands perform their half-time show and are scored on marching consistency, spacing consistency, posture, and musicality. The goal of every marching band is to have the individual participants collaborate as a single unit, resulting in a visual and musical performance. A laborious process that takes hours upon hours, and months upon months, of perfecting drill, memorizing music and specific points on the football field, comes down to a fifteen minute performance.
“I think that marching band is really good at teaching you to be a good musician, and more importantly how to be disciplined,” said Larzelere. “I specifically remember in the first two weeks of my freshman year (of high school) at marching band rehearsal and telling my band director I wasn’t feeling well, kinda lazy, and all she said was, ‘Then go home. You are no good to me sitting on the sideline.’ And so I ‘pulled my pants up’ and I went onto the field and realized she was right; you have to do your part.” Working hard individually and as a band member are both essential to a successful marching band season.
“For the marching band to be successful, you need attention to detail, precision, and to be a team player,” remarked Sophia Louden, one of East Lansing High School’s three drum majors. “You are dependent on everyone. Mr. Larzelere can only do so much, so the most important factor of our success is everyone being enthusiastic.” Louden’s interest in band needed a push from her parents, who met in marching band as high schoolers, and required her to continue to play the saxophone in high school. As a junior this year, Louden decided to take a leadership role this season, and she’ll be next year’s head drum major. Louden describes the culture of marching band as loud, enthusiastic, and helpful. “Everyone wants to be there and help each other, it’s like a family.”
As the season continues, Larzelere is looking forward to raising the bar as the details of the band’s performance are tightened every rehearsal and band class. “Everyone is positive, working hard, and for excellence, and I’m very excited for this October,” he said. “I’m so proud of my students and really enjoy watching them grow. I’ve had a unique perspective having them as 6th graders and watching them grow into young adults graduating high school. It’s really been special being able to witness that.”
Through four years of marching band at East Lansing, MSU, and the drum and bugle corps Phantom Regiment, Larzelere has learned a lot from being disciplined, independent, and patient to endure the hard work marching band demands. “Doing Phantom Regiment was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most rewarding,” stated Larzelere. “I learned a very valuable life lesson: Just because something is challenging doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, you get more rewards when you work hard for something and then go achieve it, and that’s something I think marching band teaches. It teaches kids to work hard, and a lot of people don’t realize how physically demanding it is.”
Larzelere has been asked many times, why so many kids choose to participate in marching band. “Kids like instant gratification: you do something, you get a reward, and marching band teaches you to push that gratification way off,” he explains. “The gratification you get from being in marching band isn’t instantaneous, it might not even come until the end of the season when you hang up your uniform, and then you feel that sense of pride. Delayed gratification is a much richer reward.”
The East Lansing High School marching band will be competing on October 13th in Dewitt.