NRHEG High School band marches into a bright future
The New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva (NRHEG) High School band earned recognition at the Waseca Marching Classic earlier this September but, members of the band also earned something even more valuable: the respect of their new band teacher, Jacob Bender.
Bender began his first year as NRHEG’s six through 12th grade band teacher with high expectations, knowing that this school has had a strong band program in past years. But, when he actually began working with the students, he was even more impressed by what he learned. Then, the band earned two awards at the Waseca Marching Classic in September, further proving that the public, too, appreciates the band’s hard work.
The NRHEG marching band earned first place in the Class A Division at the Waseca Marching Classic, and also earned the coveted VIP Award. A panel of judges determines the Class awards, but a separate panel of 20 “random” people determines which school will earn the VIP Award. Some of these people may be familiar with music, composition and technique, but others choose their favorite based upon their personal opinions.
“They pick the band that stood out to them overall, so it’s not within just a class, it’s within the entire parade,” Bender said, of the VIP Award. This, he said, makes the award even more significant.
The NRHEG band program has more than 100 students, who are involved in jazz band, pep band, concert band, color guard and marching band. The students are also involved in several other extracurricular activities, excelling in sports, the fine arts and academics.
“They have a lot of potential,” said Bender. “They’re really smart kids, they’re good musicians and they care deeply about the program. Their spirit for band is among the top that I’ve seen. They want to be challenged, which is hard to come by. So that in itself makes it really easy to step into a program like this.”
Bender has also been continually impressed by the leadership he sees from his students. “I have fantastic leaders,” he said. “The whole senior class has been fantastic, especially helping me in the new position, learning all their traditions and the things that they do. I think they’re the ones that have stepped up and really shown that they care about band. They want it to continue, they it want it to grow and they want it to thrive.”
In marching band, two students in particular have shown excellent leadership qualities: senior Jessica Nafe and junior Callie Spooner. Drum captain Nicole Edon, also a senior, has also been a great motivator for the younger students. “(She’s) a phenomenal leader, a fantastic musician and really takes charge of the drum line,” Bender said. Emily Eder and Bayli Possin, color guard captains, have also been strong leaders.
The band, as a whole, has also impressed Bender. “They’ve really created it as a family atmosphere,” he explained. “They’re not fighting against each other, which you can sometimes see in organizations like this, and they know they have to work together to achieve whatever they put their mind to.”
The NRHEG band learns many pieces throughout the year, and has many opportunities to show their skills in competitions and performances. In addition to the marching band competitions, the jazz band performs in a jazz festival, the concert band participates in their own contest and, in the summer, the bands enjoys playing in the parades, as well.
Soon, they’ll also show what they’ve learned during their Indoor Marching Band Concert at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, and Tuesday, Nov. 24. The performance will feature jazz band, color guard, drumline, seniors and the band’s “parade show.” They’ll also play a whole new drill, following an “Into the Woods” theme and featuring songs including “Africa,” “Eye of the Tiger,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Circle of Life.” The program is open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.
Throughout the year, Bender hopes the band will continue to grow and improve. He hopes to increase both the number of students participating in the band program and also hopes to expand the students’ “musical bubble.”
“I want to get them outside of this room and to experience other musical ideas,” he said. “For example, for extra credit, if a concert is being live-streamed on the internet, I broadcast it here, and if they come here for half of it, they get extra credit, just so they can see something different.” He also hopes to take the band on a number of field trips and is even working to initiate conversations with composers, as well.
“They can see the potential of what they can do, see that people do get paid for this and that it’s a profession,” said Bender. Bender also added that he’s working to expand the school’s library, incorporating songs by living composers that the young musicians can identify with.
His number one priority, however, is to foster the students’ love of music, and help them realize that music can become a life-long hobby. “I do know there’s definite interest to continue playing and that, to me, is the biggest achievement,” Bender said. “To have them understand that they can play their instrument their whole life and continue to do so is my biggest goal.”
The future of the program as a whole, Bender said, is very bright indeed. “I’m excited just within this year what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I’m hoping to grow the program and they’re really going to have a good year. And, I’m hoping that they can take that energy into next year and keep it going.”