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Combining forces: Unit 5 high schools to merge marching bands

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NORMAL — Two of McLean County’s largest high school marching bands will merge to practice and compete as one ensemble next year.

The Normal Marching Band will combine student musicians from Normal Community High School’s Marching Ironmen and Normal Community West High School’s Marching Wildcats.

“We think it’s the best use of resources. By combining, we can offer the students a better experience and more opportunities. It’s something the community can be proud of as well,” said Ryan Budzinski, Normal West band director.

The single marching band is expected to reach 250 students, one of the largest in the state, according to Budzinski.

By combining forces, he said the band departments can save money by sharing equipment, staff and designing and learning one performance instead of two for local and national competitions.

Budzinski will direct the band alongside NCHS director Lance Meadows and fellow Normal West director Lisa Preston.

The bands will perform separately for events such as home football games, school assemblies and homecoming parades. Groups such as concert band and jazz band will remain independent.

With its united size and skill level, the Normal Marching Band will have a greater chance to compete in higher-level competitions and events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“It’s an opportunity for our students to grow to the next level. It’s a logical step. The financial and staffing benefits are a secondary plus,” said Budzinski.

The band will be open for any student to join, as long as they can commit to the rehearsal schedule, which Budzinski said isn’t expected to change.

“In no way is this merge meant to limit student participation,” he said. Auditions will remain for specific percussion instruments and the band’s color guard.

“The students and parents have all had really thoughtful questions about the logistics of the transition but everyone has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Cathy Thorpe of Bloomington, vice president for the NCHS band board, has a senior son who marches in the NCHS band.

"At first, I was a little nervous, but I think (once we merge) we will be highly competitive. We'll be able to utilize the talent of both bands and be a powerhouse," she said, adding she hopes the single band will save the district money and form a better method of fundraising collaboration for band costs.

Thorpe said her son "sees it as a huge opportunity" and is disappointed he will graduate before the mega band forms. 

To those with doubts, Thorpe said, "I understand it's hard to change and we are rivals, but our band kids always support each other and so should we."

The merger will start during band camp in June where new marchers will learn basic skills and returning members will share techniques taught at both high schools.

“It will take a little adjustment for everybody because both schools have their own marching styles. Now, they’re both functioning at a pretty high level and have different strengths that complement one another,” said Budzinski.

The location for rehearsals is still being determined.

“We’re excited about the collaborative opportunities this offers for both schools. Many of the high school students know one another through junior high, other activities or church,” said Budzinski.

Parent and students can attend an informational meeting about the merger at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in the NCHS auditorium.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer



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