Tiny Henry Sibley band towers above competitors

For a second consecutive year, the Henry Sibley Marching Band swept the awards in its class at the Vikingland Band Festival championship in Alexandria, although the band was smaller and younger than most of the bands it competed against. (submitted photo)

Performing a “wish”-themed set that included “When You Wish Upon a Star” and scat singing, the Henry Sibley Marching Band garnered special awards recognizing the color guard, winds and percussion, sweeping its class for the second year in a row at the state championship June 29. (submitted photo)

Young 35-member group measures up to legacy

The Henry Sibley Marching Band started its season knowing it would be tough enough to match its performance in the 2013 Class AA marching band state championships, where it took top honors.

This year, the band faced two extra challenges besides new music, routines and annual turnover. It had fewer members and many more rookies than prior seasons.

The Mendota Heights high school’s students rallied, recently placing first in their class and sixth overall at the Vikingland Band Festival championship in Alexandria, where they competed against bands about three times their size or larger. Performing a “wish”-themed set that included “When You Wish Upon a Star” and scat singing, the band also garnered the special awards recognizing the color guard, winds and percussion, sweeping its class for the second year in a row.

The fact that the 35-member group competes against bands of 90-160 members and came to the season with only a handful of experienced members just makes it sweeter.

“Being a band of 35 with all of seven or eight veterans is extremely difficult for the rookies,” said drum major Sarah Records, 18.  “Watching them grow as musicians and all of us coming together to compete against larger bands was probably the most rewarding part of it.”

Hard work, exceptional staff

The veterans of the band, all 17- and 18-year-olds, attribute their success to hard work, long rehearsals and the staff that instructs them, particularly band director Amy Powers, who’s in her second year leading the group.

“We have a fantastic staff,” said Fletcher Todd, 17, the mellophone section leader. “The teachers, the instructors, everyone is grossly overqualified for their job, and gets paid way too little for the fantastic work they do. A lot of it is also the kids. We’re hard workers.”

Percussionist Jett Roeser witnessed the relatively small eight-person drumline stretch to meet the instructors’ high standards.

“The drumline came together like nothing I’ve ever been a part of, and that’s mostly on the staff,” the 17-year-old said. “We work with the best people. The kids in the entire band, they were open to doing whatever it took to win. They always had that fire. That’s why we won.”

New leader prompted excellence

Trumpet section leader Nathan Thirsten, 17, noticed a difference between the two years before Powers came along, and the impact she made in the two years she’s been band director.

“I’ve seen both sides, and it’s just incredible to see where we were and how far we’ve come and the incredible difference that that is,” Thirsten said. “Now we’re just so good.”

Powers said she hasn’t seen a group work together quite like this.

“This is the most unified group I’ve ever taught, which amazes me because their age span is great,” she said. “It’s a real testament to the leaders.”

Making memories

Although they’ve nabbed high honors two years in a row, Powers tells the kids their rewards are those breakthrough moments in practices and perfect executions in performances, not in racking up trophies.

And her lesson has stuck with Todd. He said the performance and the awards in Alexandria stand apart.

“After the parade, I really could’ve gone home, because I felt great about it,” he said. “I just like the feeling of walking off the street more than I liked hearing our name announced when we won.”

Powers said the real value of marching band comes from the commitment to long, rigorous rehearsals. Five hours is considered a short practice.

“That’s where the character is built,” Powers said. “That’s where the memories are built. The performances are the icing on the cake. What matters is the process of learning and the process of pushing yourself.”

She said adults could learn a lot from watching the band at work.

“People who doubt teenagers — they should come watch this band rehearse,” Power said, eyes welling up as she looked at a handful of her student leaders, still sweaty and still drenched after a downpour soaked participants and crowds following the Mendota Day Parade July 12, the band’s last performance. “They would be inspired by teenagers if they saw this band.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


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