Most Ferndale residents probably know that we have first-class musical organizations in our public school system. The Ferndale Golden Eagle Marching Band in particular has an amazing run of state championship appearances: they’ve come in first place seven of the last nine years, and when they don’t flat-out win, they’re still top contenders. This year’s show, End2End, put them in third place — a mere tenth of a point behind second-place Lakeshore Stevensville. The State Finals took place at Ford Field on November 2nd.
Ferndale’s shows have stood out artistically against their competitors — and that competition is fierce. In competition, bands are grouped into four flights of 12 based upon school size. In years past, there was a noticeable difference between flights but now there are no bad marchers. From the first to last, all bands look practiced and accurate. There is, however, a difference in sound and in movement across the field.
The Golden Eagles had the first championship sound we heard in flight III, and their coverage of the whole field was striking. Imagine how challenging trying to coordinate many dozens of young musicians must be, especially when you consider they aren’t simply congregated in the center of the field. From the onset of their performance, these musicians are moving all over the field — and moving quickly. Visually the show was stunning, and the effort to see everything, to take in all that was going on, combined with the gorgeous balanced sound to create the experience marching-band enthusiasts crave: a fantastic sensory overload.
It becomes obvious when thumbing through the program that this day of student excellence is a product of the public school system. Although the Michigan Competing Band Association (MCBA) allows — as far as their website reveals — any band to compete from any public or private school, every band listed is a Michigan public school. The roster left me proud of our schools; the day seemed actually a tribute to them and especially the artistic endeavors they are adept at producing.
Director Elon Jamison put it this way: “I guess I would say that competitive marching band
done right is just that: artistic. But, because of all the demands on them physically, musically, emotionally, and in terms of time, it educates the whole child in a way that nothing else does.
These kids walk away with so many stronger skill sets in so many disparate areas, they’re much better prepared for whatever comes after. The challenge is that (marching bands) are very expensive and because we are so demanding, many kids and families don’t or can’t commit, and many districts can’t, so, many kids are really missing out on what may be the single most powerful tool we have in our collective educational tool chest.”
Stacey Jamison described the big picture of what helps make this program so successful: “For me, it’s way more than the band or about being in the band. These people are my family. The people of our community are so accepting and welcoming, and marching band really exemplifies that. You come as you are, and you’re part of a team of people where each individual is just as important as the others. Everybody loves and cares about each other, from the directors and staff down to the kids that help bring equipment on the field. My son was a part of that family before he was even born.”
Those of us with marching band in our past often remember it as one of the best times of our lives. Taking the field with your peers after months of honing your own skills and meshing them with 117 others is a peak experience.
For the past three years, Ferndale Schools have been recognized as a Best Community for Music Education. We have something special going on here and we community members get to see it embodied before our eyes.
“For some kids, it’s their most loving, supportive, encouraging, excelling part of their lives,” Stacey Jamison told me. “I always say: marching band saves kids.”