Laker marching band gears up for football opener

By Dan Goubert | 8/30/15 10:37pm

GVL / Courtesy -

While many returning Grand Valley State University students are just getting unpacked and ready for the academic year, the school’s dedicated Laker marching band has been working to make sure that this season’s football games will be more memorable than ever before.

This year the band seeks to place a heavy emphasis on raising student spirit. The band developed the routine of the year’s first halftime show with their fellow students specifically in mind.

“’Party at GV’ is our first show,” said Rachael Stietes, junior sousaphone player. She said the show will be a tribute to today’s upbeat Top 20 hits. It will include songs like “Shake It Off," "Uptown Funk" and "Wrecking Ball,” with that last Miley Cyrus song serving as an homage to GVSU’s own controversial hanging sculpture.

During the show, the band will face the student section, shaking their plumes and dancing to more directly engage their fellow Lakers in the spirit of the game. Band members even learned the YouTube “Whip & Nae Nae” dance to keep the tone of the show modern.

Future shows will follow different and diverse themes, from a “Sound of Music” movie montage to the Circle Drill show. The half-time show for GVSU’s Sept. 19 game will also follow a spy theme, playing songs from “Mission: Impossible,” “James Bond” and other espionage films. Band members are keeping the specific details of the spy show a secret until the show comes out. The band aims to make each of these shows an improvement in terms of both music and marching.

“We want to set a higher standard in rehearsal and performance,” said John Martin, director of the marching band. “Second, we want to continue to gain exposure as a great university marching band in all the U.S. Third, (we want) to represent GVSU with class and dignity and totally support our Laker football team.”

All of this support and hard work will soon pay off in a big way, as band members say the excitement of their peers is the most fulfilling part of the performance.

“After we’re done with a game, we’ll walk by the student section and they’ll all give us high fives,” said Jamie Penzien, a sophomore piccolo player. “Just knowing that they think we actually did a good job and they think we’re kind of cool is very rewarding.”

Band members spent the week before classes working hard at band camp, an annual tradition that allows for plenty of practice time. Members of the marching band said they were especially proud that, during camp, the band learned and memorized the pre-game performance in just three days.

Ashley Cefali, a sophomore tenor saxophone player, noted that this was different from previous years.

“Last year (the pre-game show) wasn’t even memorized,” Cefali said. She concluded that the band feels much more confident coming out of camp this year.

In addition to the pre-game show, the band also learned their first half-time show, their in-stand music and the GVSU alma mater in four-part harmony, which the Laker marching band will sing at the Sept. 3 football game.

Though practice was the main focus of this year’s band camp, members also got the chance for much needed team bonding, sophomore trumpet player Erin Ray said. At night, band members performed musical skits, including section renditions of songs from “Potter Puppet Pals” and “The Lion King.” Ray said these activities allowed returning members to connect with the band’s 92 incoming freshmen in a meaningful way.

“I felt like after every single night it brought everyone a little bit closer to each section,” Ray said. She added that new and old members “felt like they could listen to each other and care for one another more so, instead of the first day when no one knew each other.”

The marching band will debut its “Party at GV” half-time show on Thursday, Sept. 3, as GVSU plays Southwest Baptist University at Lubbers Stadium. This black out game begins at 7 p.m.

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