There are 137 members in the 2019 Milaca High School Marching Band. Call any of them a “Band Nerd” and they’ll take it as the ultimate compliment.
And rightly so.
The band has an extraordinary tradition and history, so simply being a part of it is an accomplishment.
“I enjoy the friendships and the bond you create throughout this experience,” drum major Tori McGraw said. “I love being here every day. It makes me feel like I inspire kids to eventually do something like this someday. You learn a lot about yourself and about the leader you can be. Whether is hot or cold or rainy, you persevere through anything.”
Milaca debuted its 2019 performance, entitled “Nevermore: The Raven,” on a sunny and warm Saturday at Saturday’s Rum River Festival in Princeton to an appreciative crowd. Hundreds of hours of work goes into the final product, and the parade season had a successful start as Milaca placed first in Class A, defeating longtime rival Litchfield. Waconia won first place in Class AA and was overall champion.
And while the parade season is competitive, director Andrew Nelson said it goes beyond winning and losing.
“In the big picture we’re out there to perform and perform at a really high level,” said Nelson, who is in his 16th year at Milaca after teaching band for six years in Blaine and four in Red Wing. “Competition is part of what we do. And I always tell our kids that you should want to win. But that’s not the most important thing at the end of the day. The most important thing is you learn to perform at a high level and you take what you can from the judges. We don’t control that stuff.”
“We just try to be the best we can be,” said Zach Salgren, one of three drum majors leading the group down the street. “I love being with a group of people who are passionate about making music and making everything awesome”
The Wolves began practicing their 2019 routine in earnest three weeks ago to prepare for a busy schedule that includes eight parades. They put the finishing touches on their routine on a warm Friday morning, performing for the appreciative Milaca Middle School Marching Band before cheering on their younger counterparts’ performance.
The music is powerful while the marching and drill moves are made with precision. The camaraderie of the group is obvious. Nelson weaves his way through the files of the band during a break, asking the group through a microphone “Who is tougher than us?”
The band responds in unison: “No one!”
He asks the same question two more times and receives the same enthusiastic response.
“I like bonding with the rest of my section and I know other sections do, too,” said Indigo Bistrup-Peterson, clarinet section leader. “It’s like a little section family. It’s really fun. We’ll all bring snacks, play games and hang out together.”
Alec James is drum major and one of the lead performers in the act while the band plays. Though the practice hours are long, James said he loves the process.
“I find it to be really interesting and I love the creative ability that I have with it and working with the color guard,” James said. “It’s hopefully inspiring to the other band members. This is immensely fun. I love being here every day. The parades are so fun. It may be sweltering hot in the uniforms, but overall it’s a great time.”
Trumpet section leader Breanna Mehrwerth agrees.
“I hope all of us can be the best we can be,” Mehrwerth said. “We’ve done so many shows and each one gets better. It’s so cool that there are so many groups of kids in high school but yet we all come together to do marching band. That’s where different groups of people bond together. You’re hanging out with people that you don’t necessarily hang out with during the school year.”
Music in his blood
Music always has been a big part of Nelson’s life. He graduated from Litchfield High School in 1988 and played trumpet for the Dragons, who have been a marching band powerhouse for decades. Competition in Litchfield was heavily stressed, but Nelson believes it’s important to find the right balance between competing and having fun.
“I don’t remember winning in high school, and I know we did,” Nelson said. “We did a lot. But I remember the experiences of being really great. I remember the feeling of going through the judges stand and having people cheer. That’s what it’s about. It’s a wonderful thing for the band world. We can go to a parade and win, and that’s great. We can finish third, and that’s great. There isn’t the pressure to win that there is in a sport.”
Nelson wrote the music for this summer’s routine himself – in 27 hours. He enjoys that creative process and added that it saves the school district up to $3,000 without having to purchase music rights. This is the fourth time he’s written the music and said “They’ve liked three of the four I’ve done so far.”
“I love teaching marching band. It might be my favorite kind of teaching. I love watching them get better. The past three weeks we’ve been putting this show together and seeing it grow from segment to segment is great. I love the teaching part. I could teach marching band every day and all day. The performance part, I like that too. But I don’t like it as much as the teaching and rehearsing.”
“He’s a really fun director.” color guard member Breanna Gapinski said. “He’s very energetic.”