Tricks are slick, but without the music they're nothing.
The annual Thirlby Marching Band Exhibition, scheduled for Monday at Thirlby Field, showcases this season's programs from 19 northern Michigan schools.
Participants range from distant Cheboygan and Petoskey to area schools including both Traverse City public high schools, St. Francis High School, Kingsley and Elk Rapids. The program runs from smallest band to the largest with colossus Petoskey High School again closing out the show. The group's 225 members will perform their 2010 "The Evolution of Jazz" program, which they present at downstate band competitions.
They may hone their moves to perfection but sound is the foundation.
"All competing bands have a drill that is pretty complex these days — you're spending a lot of time on geometry — but the music is always number one," said Barry Bennett, co-director of Petoskey marching band. "Without the music, nothing else matters."
Attending the lower key Thirlby event every year is a season highlight. Praising the "beautiful" facility at Thirlby and the event's efficient logistics, the band also wants to support the other talented members in District 2 of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.
"There's so many different sizes of schools and each school has a different way of approaching marching band and they're all right," Bennett said.
The 37-member Mancelona marching band may be at the other end of the size spectrum but members' enthusiasm for participating is huge. Band director Jessica Tippett said that playing with some of the best programs in the state provides a confidence boost to her students — one that carries over into the rest of the marching season.
The opportunity is "invaluable" to a smaller school.
"They get a chance to perform in front of a large audience filled with their peers who understand the effort it takes to create a quality halftime show," Tippett said. "Also, they get the experience of playing in a large stadium like Thirlby, which many students have said gives them a sense of accomplishment."
The annual Thirlby Marching Band Exhibition draws not just band members and parents but loyal community fans who enjoy the bands strutting their best for each other.
Watching from the stands around their own performance, students also relish the chance to cheer on their fellow musicians and check out their programs.
"I think it's just something that's really exciting for the kids, the prospect of playing for their peers, it's really fun for them," said Pat Brumbaugh, band director at Traverse City West Senior High and director of the Thirlby event for the past 11 years.
Eric Fegan, co-drum major at West Senior High, will be participating in his third exhibition, his first in a leadership role. He always enjoys the non-competitive showcase and finds time to watch when not performing or volunteering.
"I think it's really cool to see a lot of different bands come from a lot of different-sized towns and thereby a lot of different-sized schools," he said. "You kind of see what everyone gets to work with and how they work with it."
Managing an event the size of the Thirlby Marching Band Exhibition requires meticulous planning.
Sixty band parents help coordinate the estimated 1,000 participating musicians plus associated equipment, buses and chaperones. Working over three shifts, these volunteers park buses, sell tickets, work the expanded concession area and execute all the logistical details needed. West Senior High band members also help out as volunteer ambassadors.
"Pat (Brumbaugh) has a student or two for every band that comes in and they direct them throughout the rest of the evening until the band performs," noted longtime volunteer manager Robert DeGabriele now serving in an advisory capacity.