by Caitlin Huston
— As he steps away from his twirling band members, Lewis Cass senior Mackenzie Wisler plays a few high notes on the trumpet and brings the music of former band director Mike Clark to center stage.
Clark passed away Sept. 30 after a battle with cancer. Wisler, who is playing the former band director’s trumpet, is one of the 120 band members preparing for the state competition Saturday in Indianapolis. When they go to the competition, current band director Don Krug says the band members will do their best not only to defend their title as reigning state champions but also to preserve Clark’s memory.
At this year’s competition, Krug said, the band will be playing a show entitled “El Ano de Los Reyes,” which translates to “The Year of the Kings.” The band had to receive gold ratings in district and regional competitions and place in the top 10 at semistates to reach the finals.
View the rehearsal video here.
The band has the distinction of being the only high school band in the state to attend the competition for the 31st year in a row, Krug said. And though many of the band members are used to attending the competition, Krug said this year, they’re still as excited and determined as ever.
“They have a lot of hopes and dreams and desires to remain state champs,” Krug said.
Band members have been practicing the music since summer band camp, but put in extra practice — to the tune of 1 1/2 hours a day — last week during fall break.
“We used last week to help us with this week, getting more practice time in,” Krug said.
The show has a Spanish flamenco theme and features flamenco costumes and dancing.
But the season and many of the practices have been shadowed by the death of Clark, who Krug said many of the students looked to as a father figure.
“Ninety percent of the days at the practice they’re doing well,” Krug said. “It’s the other ten percent that breaks your heart.”
Clark spent more than a decade at Lewis Cass and took the band to several state band competitions, Krug said. At this competition, Krug said the band members are doing their best to keep his memory alive and remember him as they perform.
“They’ve done a lot of grieving and a lot of tears,” Krug said, “But I guess it’s determination that keeps holding them on and realize they have to get back to the business at hand and perform.”
Senior Jena Hughes, a drum major with the band, said though Clark is no longer there to direct them, his presence remains on the field with them.
“The way I see it is when he was with us here he taught us so many things and he could always verbally tell us or show us what to do,” Hughes said. “Now I think he’s still helping us in spirit.”
It’s a thought that freshman Tristan Claypool, a trumpet player, also carries with him as he remembers the man who helped him learn the basics.
“When we perform that’s when I feel like he’s right there behind me, watching me and helping me do my best,” Claypool said.
Bearing Clark’s trumpet, Wisler carries a physical reminder of Clark on the field and said he feels connected to him.
“It feels good having him with us,” Wisler said.
Hughes added that she believes the emotionally difficult season has helped bring the band members together and ultimately made them stronger.
“I feel like I’m connected more with the band this year than any other year,” Hughes said. “I am nervous, but I’m also confident.”
Principal Mark Karmel, said the school is proud of the band, especially with all they’ve had to overcome.
“It’s really a point of pride for the school that we excel in a lot of things, including in band,” Carmel said.
Each year the band repeats a mantra to themselves on the field, and Krug said this year he’s asked them to say, “This is the year, the day, the moment.”
But he added that he doesn’t tell the students to win the competition, but rather to do their best.
“I just want them to have their best performance that day,” Krug said.
And with that in mind, Hughes said she believes the band can honor Clark and perform to the best of their abilities.
“I look at if I do it for myself, I’m also doing it for Mike Clark,” Hughes said. “Because I know that he’d want us to do our best.”
Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org.