School band program returns

MANISTIQUE – The return of the Manistique Area Schools band program is music to student’s ears. The program was originally cut due to budget concerns, but after a two-year absence, band was brought back this year as a half-time program.

“The board was approached by the public,” said Manistique Area Schools Superintendent Kathy McDonough. “The board was always supportive of looking for a way to return the program. Bringing it back at half was their way of easing the program back.”

At the program’s peak prior to its cancellation, the high school band had enough students to need two sections – a “Green” band and a “White” band. However, as new state curriculum mandates took effect, enrollment declined, and course offerings decreased, the band program became a single 9-12 section before finally being cut.

There are four bands the way the new program is structured: a combined fifth and sixth grade band, a seventh grade band, an eighth grade band, and the high school band. For the 2013-14 school year, 137 students were enrolled in band, 69 of which are in the seventh grade, when band is required.

“There are no lessons as part of the curriculum, but students are encouraged to seek out private instructors to take lessons, because private lessons are the best way to improve as an individual,” said Director Jeremy Connin.

Even though the program is freshly restarted, the students are already showing off their musical prowess while representing the Emeralds.

“We involved five students in solo and ensemble in Escanaba this year, and two qualified for state solo and ensemble,” said Connin.

The high school band also attended the Michigan School Band & Orchestra Association District 13 Band and Orchestra Festival in Newberry, performed at football and basketball games, and held three concerts this year.

A fourth high school band concert will take place on May 20 at 7 p.m. following a fourth and fifth grade music program. The high school and eighth grade bands will also perform at graduation on May 23 and in the Memorial Day Parade on May 26.

“Non-band students have also been supportive of the band by cheering at events for the band,” said Connin. “Several high school students who were not in band this year have also been encouraged to join for the next year.”

All but two of the students in the high school band were in band before the program was cut or came from other schools with band programs.

“The ‘band veterans’ have been very positive throughout the process and are the core of our (high school) band,” said Connin.

While the veteran band members support the program from within, the Manistique band program has also received outside support.

“I have received a lot of parent, grandparent, and community support. We have had several instrument and monetary donations to the program this year, and plenty of encouragement from those I bump into in the community,” said Connin.

Businesses and organizations have also helped to support the young musicians. The Manistique Lions Club donated t-shirts for the pep band, several businesses donated gift certificates for a practice incentive program, and a band boosters organization was started this year to support the program in other ways.

“They have helped with events such as organizing receptions after two of our band concerts and planning a fundraiser for next year,” said Connin.

Bringing the band program back has presented some unique challenges – such as reorganizing the master class schedule, cleaning out the band room that was used for storage for two years, and preparing instruments for students – but support from students, the community, the school board, and the administration have helped Connin address the challenges.

“A band program provides the school and the community with many benefits, but more than anything it provides students with a creative outlet and an enriching experience that will stick with them for years to come,” said Connin. “The school took an important step in bringing the band program back, and we’ll need the support of all parties involved to continue to strengthen the program.”