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Marching band director pushes quiet, of all things

Marching band director pushes quiet, of all things

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SIOUX CITY | When the West High marching band took the field at Olsen Stadium for a homecoming performance last month, several West Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders joined in.

All in the name of recruitment, says Cody Tucker, director of bands at West High.

"We have 53 members in the marching band now," says Tucker, a Rosemount (Minnesota) High School and Luther College graduate. "Having seventh- and eighth-graders join us for homecoming might help our future numbers come up. In a school this size, there's no reason we can't have 200 in the band."

Tucker notes there's an enrollment ratio tossed about by band directors. In essence, a band should come to about 15 percent of the school's student body.

West isn't there yet. It's not close. That's Tucker's challenge. He aims to reach it on a volunteer basis. That means if you're in band at West High, you don't HAVE to be in marching band.

"I know that's not the way it is at other schools," Tucker says. "I think that with a volunteer group, you can push harder and push in a good way."

"The kids want to be there," says Patrick Patterson, a 2008 West High graduate who works as assistant director of bands.

When musicians who aren't in the marching band see their peers head out for marching band practice, Patterson stays behind to work with them on concert band selections.

The West High school this fall is called "B.I.O.N.I.C." The 9-minute program features one song divided into four movements: "Gears," "Levers," "Pulleys" and "Springs."

Tucker realized a long-time goal in writing the music (with Patterson) and choreographing the show's movements. "B.I.O.N.I.C." highlights the intricate inner-workings used to build a machine. The band will perform in festivals in Sioux City, Sheldon, Orange City, Vermillion, South Dakota, and Lincoln, Nebraska.

Bishop Heelan High School Director of Bands James Kunz is also tackling an ambitious fall schedule, one featuring four band festivals, ranging geographically from Marshall, Minnesota, to Ankeny, Iowa.

"The kids have really gravitated toward the competition," says Kunz, a 2007 Heelan grad and 2011 graduate of South Dakota State University. "Students here are wired to be academically and athletically competitive. Why not feed that into marching band as well?"

Tucker and Patterson echo the sentiment at West. Interestingly, they have found it challenging in the early going to bring out the volume in their musicians. Many of the West High marchers, they agree, tone their music down, rather than up.

"They like to play quietly, which surprised me," Tucker says. "I've tried to get them to open up and to use their air effectively for those high points."

In the meantime, there is power in quiet. The best bands often master the moments of silence, drawing the audience in and making the quiet work for the band.

Getting the band on board with these concepts will help West High's music department soar. Doing so will undoubtedly help the musicians, too.

Tucker answers the age-old question on how music instruction helps young people.

"Where should I start?" he says, finding agreement with Kunz. "There's discipline, time management and collaboration. Not only do you have to pay attention, you have to retain the information."

That skill will show when these trumpet players and percussionists one day enter the work force, be it in sales or education or service or retail.

"If the work force, you'll have to listen and retain what a manager says to you," he says.

The marching band does that every day.

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