Marian Catholic Marching Band Seizes Opportunity

BOA The Crucixition
Marian’s band presents The Crucifixion. (Photo Supplied)

Indianapolis, IN-(ENEWSPF)- “Having established a pattern of excellence year after year can be both a good thing and a bad thing,” said Greg Bimm, Director of Bands at Marian Catholic High School. “Any time a group repeatedly achieves at an extraordinary level, the achievement itself, and the recognition of that achievement can sometimes be perceived as ordinary or unremarkable.”

With any organization that consistently excels year after year, especially in the fine arts area, complacency sometimes evolves and much-deserved recognition goes unpublished.

Try explaining that to a group of high school musicians who this fall have not only claimed an unprecedented 32nd consecutive Illinois State Championship, a 5th place finish among all high school marching bands in the nation, and a 17th First Place in Class 2A at the Bands of America Grand National Finals in Indianapolis. 

The students, from the time they first report for summer sectionals as freshmen before even stepping foot into a classroom at Marian Catholic, are taught the discipline, drive, and commitment that have been the life blood of the Marching Spartans for more than thirty years.

The band community at Marian is a well-oiled machine with internal levels of leadership and responsibility falling to upperclassmen and band officers.

“All the traditions passed down through the years are among the memories I will carry with me long after graduation,” said Aaron Dunajeski, a senior trumpet player and band officer. “I’ve learned to work toward my own definition of perfection, not just helping the group accumulate trophies and awards. Each of us set our own standards and works toward them all season.”

That level of commitment is difficult for an individual to achieve, let alone a group of 250 high school students.

“Really, it’s difficult for others to understand what it takes to reach this level of achievement,” said senior Brandon Johnson, one of three drum majors. “It’s not like it’s expected, but we all understand our role in maintaining the level of excellence that is the Marian Catholic Marching Band.”

Alex Armellino, a senior section leader and band officer added, “In order to accomplish what we do, we are all committed to working together as a family, and living out our tradition of pride.”

While the general public and school community who attend home football games in Spartan Stadium get to see the band perform their “home show” on fall Friday nights, it is the competition show that is so intricate, so musically challenging, so utterly extraordinary that entire stadiums of spectators are silenced in awe.

The central point of this year’s show, “The Passion Tree” is a 12 feet tall, three-dimensional tree that represents Jesus Christ.

The performance begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, a movement full of dance and celebratory music, with the tree fully leafed. The second movement portrays Jesus’ betrayal and arrest where the dance and music turn more forbidding, and the tree begins to lose a few of its leaves. In the third movement, the persecution, intense music and a speaking choir chanting “Crucify Him!” are accompanied by the tree losing all of its leaves, revealing a cross in the branches.

In the crucifixion which follows, a hauntingly beautiful piece of music is punctuated by alarming hammer strikes representing nails driven into a cross.

Meanwhile, the brass section is kneeling in the shape of a cross on the field, playing quietly into the ground, as the rest of the band slowly moves toward the center to watch. A single dancer in red moves through the cross formed by the brass section and into a second cross formed by the color guard. The dancer places a red shawl on the tree, and the resurrection begins with a storm, moving out of the tomb, and finishes with a huge fanfare and the tree spinning around to reveal the newly-blossomed side.

Prior to the band’s last competition against eleven other finalists in Indianapolis, drum major and band President, Katherine Johnson spoke to the group just before taking the field.

“When people ask me why I’m in band, the answer is not simple,” she said.

“How do you put into words the feeling of striving for a level of excellence and musicianship that can only be obtained by us together?” she told her fellow band members. “How do you put into words the feeling of walking onto the field, and for eleven minutes, time and reality stand still, leaving you surrounded by only music, movement and art?”

“One aspect of this show is that it allows each of us the opportunity to wear our hearts on our sleeves. We have the chance to tell the audience, without words, of our own experiences of joy, sorrow, passion and pride. This is your last chance to seize this opportunity. Make the most of this timeless moment and be amazing, because you can.”

Clearly, she is right.

The Marian Catholic Marching Spartans have reached the Bands of America National Finals for 27 consecutive years, placed 6th or higher 22 times, and brought home the Grand National Championship seven times.

Not a bad history at all. Well done, Spartans.