KANELAND—John Briggs, clarinet section leader of the Kaneland High School Marching Knights, gave a pep talk to his bandmates on a recent chilly evening during band rehearsal on the track of Kaneland’s Peterson Field.
The speech followed several warm-up exercises on the football field, involving the shouting of numbers, as well as count-down exercises like calf raises and quad stretches.
“I’ve seen so many people step up their game,” Briggs said to his bandmates. “I would hate to see such great talent go to waste. Let’s leave a good mark at Sandwich.”
After more encouraging words from another fellow bandmate, the band cheered and the group hit the football field, proceeding to play a scale and then a slow chorale.
The Marching Knights’ hard work paid off, as they competed at the Sandwich Music Festival at Sandwich High School and finished in second place in their Class AAA and fourth place overall out of 14 total bands.
The band also received a Best Music award and Best Drum Majors in their class.
Kaneland High School band director Aaron Puckett can pinpoint what makes this year’s Marching Knights band great.
“This band has really captured some of the things that we try to communicate to our students about pride and passion and who and what they are,” Puckett said. “Our student leaders have done a really excellent job communicating that mission and that goal. And it really has shown through in many ways in their performances.”
The band, consisting of 94 students ranging from freshmen to seniors, started marching practice last summer and rehearsed over two weeks of daily rehearsals.
By the end of August the group gets together to practice twice a school week. During school time, before mid-September, they practice tunes for marching. School fields and parking lots are where the band perfects its moves.
The Marching Knights make their way to four parades each year and up to five marching competitions in Illinois.
KHS senior Alex Speckman plays mellophone and is a section leader for trumpets and mellophones. He said that being in the marching band feels good to see how the band comes together for a seven-and-a-half-minute show.
“All of the hard work, and it’s difficult work, definitely,” Speckman said. “You get frustrated it’s not coming together. But when you finally get to see it—you finally realize and get the crowds’ reaction—it feels good.”
Spencer said he likes that the band has unity.
“There’s a whole group of us that can come together no matter how old you are, and you just can just know that you’re a part of this group,” he said. “And that is something cool to be a part of. And we all know that.”
During a recent band rehearsal, Puckett and Rebecca Andersen, assistant director for marching band at KHS and director at Kaneland Harter Middle School, stood above the bleachers, speaking directions in a microphone that boomed in speakers.
The band played “The Firebird Suite,” a classical piece by Igor Stravinsky, adapted for marching band. The brightly lit football field was the band’s grassy stage. The spooky intro started and the band leaned to one side.
“Here we go. Set,” Puckett yelled.
The band faced back. Some faced front. They leaned to a side, then they moved in unison.
“Stop here,” Puckett said, letting the group know to watch.
“Roll your feet,” Andersen added. “Reset to that hold.
And so practice continued. Color guard tossed flags. Many students, dressed in sweaters and jeans, played memorized notes and worked as a team, speaking proudly as a unit.
When Puckett said, “Hey band,” they replied, “Hey what?” When he said, “Knights,” they all said, “With pride.”
KHS junior Rachel Urich, a flute player, said she has learned lessons like leadership and patience from being in the Marching Knights.
“I feel confident that I can actually do this,” Urich said. “And I have something that I love.”
KHS junior Kristin Lipinis plays clarinet in the Marching Knights, called the group a “big band family.”
“I feel very proud to be in a marching band,” she said.