April 22 02:43 AM

Almont band marching to success

Garners 1st-Division ratings in all categories judged during recent MSBOA Festival

November 10, 2010
ALMONT — High school band members marched onto the Vassar High School field last month and walked off with straight 1st Division ratings at the 2010 MSBOA Marching Band Festival.

It was the band's eighth straight overall 1st Division rating and the second year in a row that the band earned a perfect "A" in all nine judged categories.

Band Director Brian McCloskey is immensely proud of his instrumentally-inclined students and with their dedication to the program.

Band Director Brian McCloskey expects and receives excellence from his dedicated students.
"This is a good band," says McCloskey. "We have a lot of talent and dedication here in Almont. We have great kids and on festival days I am a proud papa."

McCloskey praises the band's drum majors, Mandi Serwatowski, Trevor Ward and Kayla Phillips; for their leadership and extraordinary commitment during the marching season.

Principally speaking

High school Principal Rob Watt credits McCloskey, all of the band students and their parents for helping the instrumental music program achieve such great heights.

"We're very proud of our band and its successes," said Watt. "Brian has done a wonderful job of building our program since he's been here.

"He's very diligent and he has a way of connecting with the beginning musicians and those more experienced.

"Brian is able to instill a love for music in young people that lasts a lifetime," Watt continued. "That comes through expecting a lot of himself and of his students."

McCloskey admits that he subscribes to the philosophy that high standards must be attained and then maintained.

"A few years ago we adopted the motto 'Almont bands: A tradition of excellence,'" says McCloskey. "We want to give our new students something to live up to.

"The band members know they need to work hard and give excellent performances to maintain that tradition. As a result, the band keeps getting better, making greater strides and playing more difficult music each year."

McCloskey points out that band students are typically well-rounded and participate in a variety of school- and community-related activities.

"These students are all very busy, taking part in activities like student council, athletics, Scouts and other things," he says, "while putting in hundreds of hours during the summer and throughout the school year for band rehearsals.

"We have a great deal of talent," says McCloskey, "but hard work trumps talent that doesn't work hard. This is a tenet I impress upon the kids and they have bought into that philosophy."

McCloskey is not alone in his commitment to the band program. He benefits from a supportive school administration and school board.

A strong proponent for music and the arts in public schools, Watt says statistics bear out there is a correlation between student participation in music and their success in the classroom.

"There's a definite connection between music and mathematics," Watt insists, "and it doesn't stop there. There's a lot of discipline and dedication required for both."

He acknowledged the parents of band members, whose role he considers integral to student development, both as musicians and as individuals.

"The kids definitely benefit from the support of their parents," Watt said. "It's not easy to get students to practice their instruments and show up for all the required school functions. That has a lot to do with parents."

McCloskey agrees, alluding to the large turnout of parents for band activities, including football games, concerts and various festivals and competitions.

"Parents are very dedicated to the program, which I believe is key to the success of kids in general, as well as in music," he says. "The community has been tremendous. The music boosters play a vital role and our booster president, Joyce Griffin, is golden. She and all the other parent volunteers handle the logistics of running the program from fundraising to uniforms — giving the students and I the chance to really focus on rehearsal."

McCloskey says a successful longterm instrumental music program requires attracting young musicians who will blossom and excel on their instruments over time.

"We make an effort to recruit new musicians," he says. "We just did that with a morning concert at the middle school. Hopefully, some of the younger kids will see and hear something they like and want to join the band."

He acknowledges the efforts of Scott Jones, who he describes as the "quintessential middle school band director.

"Scott is perfect for that age and ability level," says McCloskey of his colleague. "His bands develop a musicality beyond their years and they sound very mature in performance."

Tough times for music

During his eight-year tenure as band director, McCloskey has seen a dramatic increase in students taking instrumental music classes.

While happy with the numbers, the band director worries about funding a growing program during austere economic times.

"I have lamented to our superintendent (Steve Zott) that our band program is growing at the worst possible time," says McCloskey. "When I came to Almont the high school band had 40 members. We now have more than twice that number.

"With the ranks swelling we need more uniforms, equipment and instruments — all at a significant cost.," he says. "The reality is that funds are just not there right now. When pressed, many (school) boards and administrations have to make tough decisions, sometimes curtailing or eliminating music and art programs to maintain the core academic areas."

For now, McCloskey remains optimistic about the future of the district's band program and its continued widespread support.

"We are very lucky to have a supportive board and administration," he says. "I believe cutting music is highly detrimental to a school district and can be avoided even in times like these."

Indeed, McCloskey puts his money where his mouth is; literally sacrificing to help maintain the district's instrumental music programs. Not long ago, when middle school Band Director Scott Jones' position appeared to be in jeopardy, McCloskey agreed to take a reduction to part-time status to ensure Jones could remain on staff.

"Mr. Jones' position was one of the proposed cuts," says McCloskey. "I just could not bring myself around to the idea of running the whole program in three buildings alone again.

"He (Jones) is an excellent director and losing him would have been a tragedy. Taking a reduction was something I felt I had to do."

Concurrently, McCloskey says the school's music boosters have stepped up and helped raise funds to fill the gap where the school's budget fall short.

"Parents and community members should not be shy to voice their concerns and support to their local schools," he says. "We provide a sense of pride and belonging to our students, and we teach as much about life as we teach about music. That's really why music programs are so important."

Christmas concert near

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, McCloskey has some cheery news for instrumental music lovers.

Now that the marching season has concluded, McCloskey and students are focusing on concert material, gearing up for a Sunday, December 19 Christmas Concert, starting at 2 p.m. in the high school gymnasium.

McCloskey says the free annual Christmas 'Collage' Concert will consist of an hour of non-stop music as all three bands take the gymnasium floor at once. The bands will trade off musical selections, without applause, until the presentation galvanizes into what he hopes will be a "thunderous finale."

"The attendance for this concert is typically around 600 people," says McCloskey. "It enjoys tremendous support."

The concert will feature a traditional Christmas carol sing-along incorporating the audience.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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