Battling their way to glory on a Saturday in May

Opinion: Columns

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Jill Wagner

We had music class once a week at St. Mary's, where we would hope Mr. Steinbach would let us end the class with a rousing "If the devil doesn't like it, he can sit on a tack! … ouch!" and we would be propelled from our chairs as we imitated the imaginary tack in the song. It was our version of choir, but playing instruments and band music, that was for public school kids. So when I plunged into the public high school, Downers Grove North, I never considered Marching Band as something I could do, but I did notice the band kids were happier than the rest of us.

I didn't scour the rankings of schools when I moved into Forest Park — I didn't have kids — but thanks to the Rosas, I have landed in this perfect community. Our elementary schools developed my current freshman, starting with recorder and "Hot Cross Buns" in third grade, and on to the flute in fourth grade, opening him to unbelievable experiences in high school as a teen.

So in case you don't know me and my family, I have two boys, one a freshman at PMSA. His "home school" is Proviso East, which means he's in both the PMSA Band (flute) and a member of the Proviso East Marching Band (piccolo). Since it is the month of May, and I have two children, my every minute is running between school events, or missing them, as the year ends. This Monday, Henry performed at Orchestra Hall, for the Merit Fest, with PMSA students along with other Merit School of Music band and choir members. This past Saturday, Henry was a part of the Proviso East Marching Band's Battle of the Bands in the Proviso East Fieldhouse. 

Orchestra Hall, one of our National Historic Landmarks, where the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays, was built in 1904 and designed by Daniel Burnham. It was built to maximize the acoustics from the stage allowing sound to travel up through the auditorium. The Proviso East Field House was built in 1934. It features a U-shaped upper deck and is listed as one of the top 20 field houses in Illinois. It seems to push the sound down onto to the court allowing the band to act as a formidable 6th Man for the basketball teams who play below. 

Back in August, I wasn't so sure about having my son be in two new schools and performing 2-5 hours of music a day, on top of his academic regimen. But now in the final weeks of freshman year, he not only survived but thrived, and I couldn't be more proud of my son and his fellow Pirates and Pythons. 

Henry joined the East summer band camp last year and fell into this confident, composed and charming team known as the Pirate Marching Band. Perhaps you have seen and heard them on Madison Street at the St. Patrick's Day Parade, Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown, and at smaller local parades and gatherings around town over the years. 

Proviso East and West each host a Battle of the Bands, and they are stunning. The sophistication of choreography, subtle and dynamic movements and rhythms coupled with humor and grace is marvelous to watch. These battles are not kids performing rock-and-roll with their 3- to 5-piece garage band; these are full marching band battles, with sometimes over a hundred kids performing together, showcasing an experience often with creativity and humor. They are awe-inspiring.

 So, this past weekend, Proviso East hosted their Battle of the Bands with 10 marching bands, each of whom performed for an admiring crowd, other bands and judges. Because of the storms predicted, the Battle was moved from the outdoors into the field house, where the sound can reverberate in its intimate chamber. 

With over 450 talented students from all over Chicagoland, and even a school from Michigan, it took an extraordinary team from Proviso East to orchestrate the event, which included teachers, faculty, maintenance, security, alumni and volunteers. The event, started 16 years ago, has been raising funds for the East band's annual college trips and the summer band camp. It also brings the best of the friendly rivalry between Proviso East and West. Kudos to West and their performance of "Nolia Clap." 

Now that the Battle of the Bands is over, the bands will regroup and start summer programs, where young Proviso talent can be nurtured for next year's showcase. 

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Jeremy Horn  

Posted: May 18th, 2018 11:29 PM

Once again, an amazing article piece that you wrote, Mrs. Wagner! Thank you and your husband, Ned for helping out with the food and distributing it to the visitors, alumni's, and band members that performed at the "Battle of the Bands." The event was a huge turnout and it was fantastic to seeing all the residents in the Proviso Township (not just Forest Park or Maywood...just everyone) supporting our youth and their talents through the Arts. As an alumni of Proviso East High School, and an alumni of the marching band, it put a smile to my face and it was very enlightening. I will share this article that you wrote to everyone!

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