Students explore a forest of dreams and bridge the gap between band and athletics
By Janelle Fisher
City Pages Editor
Although halftime at a football typically draws people to the concession stand for a mid-game snack, the Bay Port Band’s halftime performance gives audiences a reason to rethink that popcorn run as nearly 200 students take their places on the field wielding instruments, flags and other props.
The marching band and color guard, directed by Kyle and Ashley Siegrist, consists of roughly 180 students,
Coordinating a halftime routine for such a large group, the directors said, is no easy task.
“It’s definitely challenging, but that’s kind of the fun of it, too,” Ashley said. “Kyle has taken it upon himself to kind of become a drill writer over the past couple of years and has utilized some newer software that allows you to create the drills. And then, because our school district has been so supportive, we’ve actually also started to utilize an app on our phones called the Ultimate Drill Book, and that’s been really helpful because all the kids just grab their phones and they can see their dot and it really helps us with getting more streamlined through our rehearsals.”
Kyle said that the new technology has made learning choreography easier for band members and thus enabled the band to tackle much more complex routines.
“It’s a lot different from the days of using paper to learn your choreography on the field,” he said. “The kids now can watch animations of their spots and actually see where they’re supposed to be moving, synced up with recordings of the music that they’re playing. We can write notes to the kids in real time and basically send it out to all of their phones. It’s really cool. It’s been a game changer as far as what we do. We’ve definitely upped the level of choreography and of production design that we’ve been trying to do on the field and we’ve gotten away from just standing, playing a tune, going into a formation, standing some more, playing a tune and moving a little bit. We’ve kind of turned into telling a story on the field over the last couple of years.”
This turn towards storytelling, Kyle said, is on par with the kind of performances collegiate and professional marching bands are doing, giving Bay Port band students a head start in preparing for band after high school.
“A lot of the competitive marching bands and the marching bands that students would be able to participate in at the next level, either in college or professionally, they’re starting to do a lot more of these themed shows,” he said. “So last year we did a show, we called it Glow Up, and the theme was lights. So we lit up all these props on the field and flags and backdrops — we had all these things on the field that kind of emphasized that theme. And then all of the music also went along with that theme idea.”
This year’s theme is centered around a character exploring a dream world.
“This year we called it Forest of Dreams,” he said. “The basic storyline is that they have a dreamer character… Somebody falls asleep and awakens basically in this dream world. And the music definitely works — it’s “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka, “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica… The whole show kind of follows this dreamer character exploring their dream world… We’ve been kind of upping the demand on our students and giving them a more modern approach to the marching arts.”
Not only have Kyle and Ashley been raising the bar when it comes to the band’s production quality, but they’ve also been working to improve a sense of community within the band.
One way they’ve done that is by selecting four student leaders to serve as drum majors, leading their peers on the field.
“It’s interesting because every school seems to do it a little differently,” Ashley said. “I have always felt that giving kids a chance to be in a leadership role has been helpful to those kids and this year and last year we had numerous kids audition for the drum major spot and both years we’ve been really in a bind with making our final decision and picking our drum majors. We really felt like the four individuals that we chose all really needed to be there because they demonstrated through an interview process and a conducting process that they really were fit for the job, but they also hold different characteristics in their personalities and in their leadership styles that sort of help connect to all of the students that are in the band program. When you have a program that is as large as ours, you have kids that are in a whole different set of subcategories. They’re woodwinds, brass, percussion and color guard, but they’re also freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Whether they’re just getting started or they like being in band class, or maybe they’re die hard kids that are involved in all of our extracurriculars, having four drum majors with their own diverse backgrounds really kind of helps each individual student sort of gravitate towards at least one of the drum majors because they can find similarities in their own lives and connect.”
Not only does having four drum majors help foster a sense of connection among band members, but it also helps logistically during performances.
“We really do spread out from about the 20-yard line to the other 20-yard line, so being able to spread out four drum majors across the field means that there’s always somebody for our kids to be able to find the tempo from,” Ashley said.
While improving the skills of the students in the band, Ashley said she and Kyle have a greater motivation in upping the band’s game, so to speak.
“We felt like when we got [to Bay Port,] we wanted to try to bring a little bit of that intensity with us from Texas while still maintaining the heart and the appreciation that Wisconsin schools are so good at producing,” she said. “For me, there seemed to be a disconnect — and I think it is pretty common in a lot of Wisconsin schools — there just seems to be, sometimes, a disconnect between band or music in general versus sporting events and sports. Mine and Kyle’s goal is to try to bridge that gap and change the perception in our students, in our school and in our community that band is right up there with sports as far as the level of rigor and the intensity that it brings.”