Leaders of the band
For 100 years, CMU’s marching band has brought music, passion to campus
When the sea of maroon and white-clad musicians sprint out onto Kramer/Deromedi Field and lets out a “Woo! Ah” cheer that rings throughout Kelly/Shorts Stadium, there is no doubt that the Central Michigan Marching Band is ready to go.
However, this year is a little different for the Chippewa band, as it celebrates its 100th season. It’s a massive undertaking to prepare, choreograph and conduct a squad of student musicians through a barrage of concerts each year, but a dedicated team of student and staff leaders gets the job done, show after a show.
Created in 1923 by Harold Powers, the music head at the time, and Charles C. Barnes, registrar and dean of men, the CMU Marching Band has had nine directors during its run.
For current Band Director James Batcheller, the band's longevity is a testament to how the community has supported them.
"If it lasts that long, it is because it becomes so ingrained you can't get rid of it," Batcheller said. "Or because it makes the local community and therefore the world a better place.”
Batcheller said the reason the marching band continues to grow and thrive is that it’s “locked into the notion that we make the community a better place.”
The marching band currently has 265 members. Batchellersaid that he has a lot of help in running the marching band, namely from Director of Music Events John Jacobson; Media Production Manager Scott Burgess; and School of Music Executive Secretary Mindy Zeneberg.
Members of the band also help keep things running beyond just making music. The band utilizes student leadership, with rank captains and section leaders providing fellow marchers with leadership and direction.
Batcheller manages a creative team that puts the show concept together. It arranges the music and writes the drill, or how and where the band physically moves on the field. Batcheller’s position is year-round, as the drill and music are generally finalized before midway through summer.
He has been the director for 23 years now, but it is not the first time he's held a position in the band. Batcheller went to school at CMU, and marched in the band himself.
“I'm proud of the legacy of being part of the band, but I’m responsible for ensuring that current members … have access to the history, education and positivity I experienced,” he said.
He considers it a great responsibility, but also a great pleasure.
“I’m one of any number of people who were lucky enough to be directors of college bands they marched in," he said. "It was a dream come true.“
Batcheller is passionate about excelling at this position, and he said that drive can positively affect the community. He said he wants to pass a similar sense of initiative and mindset to his students.
“The band is and has been part of the best aspects of what CMU is and has to offer,” he said. “I think it's why we continue to thrive as part of this university community because we have tried to stay committed to the vitality of the university as much as our own vitality.”
The drum major
Jordan Healey is the current drum major for the CMU Marching Band and one of five female drum majors the Chippewa band has had throughout its history.
“It's 100 years of tradition,” she said. “Getting to represent that (is) just a really cool thing. We've been doing this for a very long time, obviously, we've been through a lot, we've grown a lot, we've changed a lot. And hitting 100 years really means reflecting on all of that, but also looking towards the next 100 years … towards the future. Getting to be a part of that reflection, but also that look forward towards what's next is really cool.”
Healey believes the title of drum major is an honor in itself, but she feels it is more special for her to be leading the band during the 100th year.
“It is the greatest honor in the world,” she said. “I mean just being drum major, in general, I think is just a huge privilege, getting to serve the band in that capacity. And getting to connect with all of the members in that way is so special.
“But getting to do it for the 100th season, I feel like it's just a whole other level. And I'm very grateful for it because it's the 100th season, I've gotten to meet so many amazing alumni. In fact, I got to meet and take a picture with all five of the female drum majors that the Chippewa marching band has ever had. And it was a really special thing.”
This is Healey’s second year as head drum major. It was a long process to get there, but she said it was all worth it because of the position she is in and the experiences she had while auditioning.
“I still feel to this day that this is my dream job,” Healey said. “This is my dream position. I've wanted to do it for the longest time.
“I remember throughout the process, I was thinking, you know, ‘I wasn't a drum major in high school. My background on music isn't the most extensive like there's no way I can get this.’ But I was like, ‘I'm gonna put my absolute most into it. And if I get it great, if not, I know that I did the best I could.’ And I had a lot of fun with it, and I grew a lot throughout the process.”
There was always that little bit of self-doubt, she said.
“Leading up until that point, when they announced it, I was like, ‘I'm probably not gonna get it.’ But there was always that little voice in the back of my head that said, ‘But what if you did?’” Healey said. “So when they said my name, I was in complete shock. But then I remember after that, I just started to cry because I was so happy and I knew my hard work had paid off.”
The CMU Marching Band has many traditions that they have picked up and followed throughout their long history including The Oo-Wah! Cheer, Thirty Seconds, and the Rock and Tree. Healey’s favorite tradition is the Rock and Tree, which started in 1966 and involves the Chippewa Band going to an area that overlooks Kelly/Shorts Stadium following the game and celebrating their performance.
“It's a nice reminder that no matter how the game went, no matter what happens, we're still a team. We're still a family,” Healey said. “We still come together to celebrate with each other after the game. Whether we play the fight song together, whether we sing the alma mater, we still come together and are proud of the work that we did.”
Healey feels it is important to not just think about how the football team is doing, but to also enjoy the 100th season of marching band, whether that means in performing or cheering.
“Something I tell the band all the time is no matter how the football team does, whether they win or lose, we're still proud of them,” Healey said. “But no matter how they do, it doesn't define our season. And our season is the 100th season. And it's about reflecting on how far we've come and looking at where we're going to go next.”
Being a part of the band has given Healey the opportunity to make new friends, have a deeper connection to music and gain experiences that she will always remember.
“I am not a music major,” Healey said. “But still having the opportunity to get to play and create music with hundreds of amazing people is just a great opportunity. It's been an awesome outlet for me to make friends and make connections and make these lifelong memories. And I know for a lot of people, it's a great way to relieve stress (and) … have that sense of belonging.”
One memory that stands out to her is when 2020 drum major Gabrielle Bass was able to lead the pregame show on 2021 Homecoming for the first time on the field. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Bass had not led pregame when she was lead drum major.
“I'll never forget (it),” Healey said. “It was homecoming, the crowd was huge. It was the first homecoming back since quarantine. She ran out there and led the pregame show and it was fantastic. And I remember the second they finished, she ran off the field, and we just like both hugged and were crying and it was just the most special moment ever.”
Bass said she was grateful to the band for the opportunity to come back in 2021 and perform in front of the crowd.
“Before I was so nervous because I'm like I have one chance to make this perfect and memorable,” Bass said. “And then afterwards, I just felt so accomplished and loved and just kind of (at) a loss of words just because I felt so much gratitude for the band.”
Bass’ experience as drum major was quite different from the other drum majors. Because of COVID-19, she wasn’t able to perform in front of fans.
“I was the COVID drum major,” Bass said. “So my season as the head drum major, we were six feet apart and all wearing a mask, and so before the season started, I knew it was going to be unique and very different.
“And there (were) a lot … more … negative attitudes, because no one knew what was going to happen or even if we're going to be able to perform. It was like taking everything a day at a time, and so it was challenging because I had to push through and be that constant positive reinforcement, and just make the best of everything, even though we knew everything was different and not what we wanted.
“But we just kept working and pushing and then we eventually did get to perform at two games,” she continued. “No one (was) in the stands and us still being spread out six feet in the stands, so my season was a bit unique.”
Bass says she learned about gratitude and the importance of traditions throughout her time at CMU marching band. Similar to Healey, Bass’ favorite tradition was the Rock and Tree.
As the 100th season approaches, Bass reflected on being a piece of the legacy that CMU marching band has held throughout their history.
“It feels like being one of the small pieces in a large puzzle,” Bass said. “That's how I've always viewed it, because we've all played, like, small parts; but all together collectively … (are) just like a tradition of excellence and so many legacies and talent and leadership. I would say a small piece of a large puzzle, every piece is very important.”
Healey hopes that as the 100th season is coming to an end, the band has fun with the rest of the experience and ends this season on a high note.
“My hopes are that we can just make the absolute most of it and have a lot of fun with it,” Healey said. “We're aware that our likelihood for postseason is a little unsure right now. So there's a chance that … our game on Wednesday, the 16th, versus Western could be our very last one. And for a lot of people, especially step outs like myself, that's kind of jarring. Because … this is a very big special thing coming to an end.”
The Marching Band Experience
Meanwhile, some marching band members are look forward into the next era for the CMU Marching Chips.
Cedar Springs senior Christina Caron said she hopes the cymbals continue to include more tricks in their routine in the future.
"We're doing some more showy stuff, rather than just like playing the music and I think that's nice that we are kind of raising the bar … for ourselves," Caron said. "I think it's like a goal for the whole band as well, is just to continuously raise that bar and to keep having better expectations for the section and just becoming a better ensemble as a whole."
South Lyon junior Gino Rimanelli said that he liked meeting marching band alumni.
"It was great to be able to see people that had marched in the same positions that we are and … see what has evolved and what has progressed and … how much and how far we've come since they have marched in that group, and to also see the same traditions that they participated in," said Rimanelli. "It was really great to talk with them and hear about the things that we do and how they've been here for decades at this point."
Anchor Bay senior Tori Wolfgarth always knew that whatever college she attended she wanted to be in the marching band. Already having a few friends in CMU's band and doing a couple band camps in high school, Wolfgarth decided on CMU.
"It's like the perfect mix of like a higher level than high school, but it's not quite as like competitive as MSU. And so it was just the nice like middle ground," said Wolfgarth.
Having now been playing alto sax with the band for four years, Wolfgarth wants the band to keep its drive.
"I know sometimes it can get like really hard, especially when we get to … November and it's really cold and … miserable outside," said Wolfgarth. “But just keeping the drive that we get whenever we're … winning a game and everyone gets really excited … it just amplifies everything.”
Athens senior Gaia Herrick wanted to be a part of CMU's marching band since high school.
"I came to CMU as a transfer student. I auditioned for the School of Music and I have wanted to be in the marching band for … a really long time. My first experiences with the band was CMU Band Day. That day was … life changing for me because I realized that I wanted to be a part of this band," said Herrick. "I wanted to come to CMU and … to pursue music. Like, seriously, in education and such."
Despite changing from clarinet to alto sax, Herrick said her favorite part of marching band is the community.
"It's just built on a really amazing culture and foundation … on inclusivity and a culture of compassion and caring, but also dedication to excellence," said Harrick.