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Bemidji High School marching band promises a good show

Bemidji High School Marching Band Director Derek Wickum walks through the routine with marching band members on Wednesday morning. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Mikaela Karstens, a recent graduate of Bemidji High School, is spending the beginning of her summer marching with the band - as a violinist.

She is needed in the marching band lineup because this year's routine features selections from Cirque du Soleil's Quidam, a colorful performance involving singing, dancing and unique music combinations, including folk music.

Karstens said when she heard the marching band was doing Quidam, she asked marching band director Derek Wickum if he could use a violinist.

"I had marched in previous years as one of the banner holders, so he said, 'OK,'" Karstens said.

Karstens, who has played violin since she was in sixth grade, said learning to play violin while walking has been a real challenge.

"Walking and playing at the same time took some getting used to," Karstens said. "It's not something we (as violinists) normally do. And playing while wearing a uniform, especially with the neck pieces getting in the way, has been different."

These challenges, Karstens believes, she'll overcome with time. But there is one complication she has no control over.

"If it rains, I can't play my violin," she said. "But I'll still probably march."

This year's 90-member BHS marching band has director Wickum excited and eager to meet with the band for practice every morning at the high school, five days a week, for six weeks this summer.

"It's a lot of hard work, but if they commit to it, the reward is quite big," Wickum said. "Kids have a ton of fun when they're here. It's a great bonding time for the ninth- through 12th-grade band program."

Wickum said marching band is also a great way for students to get a feel for what high school is like by meeting upper classmen.

"It's a great musical experience," he said. "They see people in the parades and shows applauding their work and they really appreciate it."

Last weekend, the band took fourth place at their first marching band competition in Benson, Minn.

"Not bad for our first time playing together as a band outside," Wickum said, referring to the rainy weather that kept the band practicing inside the previous week.

Wickum said competition judges critique the marching band on details like playing in tune, overall design, staying in step and in lines, keeping diagonals and stepping down in time together.

When asked how he felt about the band's first competition in Benson, Wickum said he was impressed the band was able to hold it together throughout the entire show, despite not having a lot of time to practice as a whole band.

"Everybody had a really good overall sense of what they should be doing. It was a relief for me," Wickum said.

The BHS marching band will perform in Osseo, Minn., June 26, and in Alexandria, Minn., June 27.

"We have to really gear up for Alexandria, which is the biggest marching band competition in the state," Wickum said. "We're going to focus on improving every little thing we can do to clean it up."

Bemidji area residents can look forward to seeing the band perform in the Water Carnival parade July 4.

"Come out and see it. I think it's one of the better shows I've designed," Wickum said. "I'm excited to see it by end of the season. Everything will be polished. Bemidji is welcome to come to any parade. We love to have Bemidji people come and support us."

Michael McKeown, 11th-grader at BHS, is a student leader in the trombone section.

"I try to provide leadership and keep the trombones at attention when they need to be," he said.

One thing he has enjoyed about marching is wearing the uniforms. To him, he said, they make him feel empowered.

"You'll be marching down the street and see people you know and you try hard not to laugh while playing," McKeown said.

McKeown said people should look forward to hearing the chanting the band will perform during one of their routine selections.

Clare Lawrence and Dani Luby, members of the band's color guard, said their interesting costumes and face paint should really attract parade-goers.

"We do a lot of leaps, too," Luby said. "It's crazy and exciting music that has a little bit of everything."

Wickum said he has worked a lot this year with Eric Sundeen, adjunct professor of percussion at Bemidji State University and the percussion coordinator at Bemidji High School.

Sundeen has been a member of the Minneapolis based percussion ensemble CRASH since 1997. He was also a member of the internationally acclaimed Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps, and has performed and instructed Minnesota Brass Drum and Bugle Corps.

"(Sundeen) has really done a great job helping out," Wickum said. "You can teach anyone to march, but when you're doing a routine it's not just marching. It's a whole heightened sense of awareness in relation to the street. It's figuring out, 'Where do I belong?'

"They are a great group," Wickum said. "We have great drum majors. It's really going to be a great season."