Marching Grey Ghosts add to legacy of success

David Brankin
The Marching Grey Ghosts perform its 2011 show, “The Rise and Fall of Rome.” The band won multiple awards this year, including the Class 1A title.

A new generation of Marching Grey Ghosts knows what it feels like to be the best in the state.

The Illinois Valley Central marching band took home the Class 1A title Oct. 29 at the 45th annual State of Illinois Invitational High School Marching Band Championship at Hancock Stadium.

This victory is the most recent addition to a long tradition of success for the program, which can now boast nine state titles.

In recent memory the band has won championships every year between 1990 and 1995, then again in 1997, 2000, 2007 and now, 2011.

For band director, Matt Chapman, this most recent victory carries special significance.

Chapman had been serving as assistant director since 1994 up until last year when he was made full director of the program after Dan Dietrich retired.

“I had been assistant director, and so I was fairly familiar with things,” he said. “That legacy of success was a little daunting at first. But I tried not to be leery of it, and just focus on putting the right people around me.”

The band’s roster is made up of 110 student-musicians, and Chapman insisted he was not alone in giving them direction.

“We have an incredible staff that kind of comes from all over to help make us what we are,” he said.

The band staff working on this year’s performance, “The Rise and Fall of Rome,” is comprised of Toby Thomas, Kim Tegg, Doug Smith, Aaron Mills, Christen Smith, Dee Ely, Jake Dickson and T.J. Klokkenga.

“They work with the kids on everything from color guard to percussion,” said Chapman. “It just really wouldn’t be possible without them.”

The band and its staff begin work each season at the end of May, working only a few days a week.

Then things intensify during the summer months, culminating in a rigorous summer camp in August.

During the school year, the band practices for an additional four hours a week outside of class.

“When you say the numbers, it definitely sounds like a lot,” Chapman said. “But sometimes it’s easy to feel like it’s still not enough.”

According to Chapman, the competition the band sees during the season has strengthened dramatically in recent years.

“We saw 43 bands at the University of Illinois, and another 45 at Illinois State University,” he said.

The band took second and first places, respectively, in those competitions, and also placed high in other regular season events at Metamora, Washington, Morton and Limestone.

“Usually it’s all about peaking at the right time,” Chapman said.

This season the band was ready to go from the beginning.

The season started strong in May when Illinois Valley Central was crowned Grand Champion at the Kentucky Derby Pegasus Parade, competing against 15 bands from the Ohio Valley area, and the momentum never quit.

Still, Chapman said that despite any successes of the program, the talent and sportsmanship he witnesses in the competition always humble him.

“It’s very competitive out there,” he said, “but you know, as soon as the awards are announced, it doesn’t matter who wins, there’s little animosity between the schools. It’s all about being encouraging and furthering music education.”

According to Chapman, the single greatest source of encouragement for the program continues to be the parents who get involved.

“We appreciate the band parents so much,” said Chapman. “They help us with loading equipment and working on publicity. We’ve even had a few mechanical problems while traveling that parents have stepped up to help us with. And, of course, the fundraising.”

The band program at Illinois Valley Central required a $70,000 budget this past year to pay for staff, props, equipment and travel, Chapman said.

But staff and supporters aside, its the kids who have gotten the band this far, and their efforts that allow them to excel, he added.

“We take a lot of pride in our program,” he said. “Our band motto is ‘Pride in Performance.’ I think we make that happen every day.”

Currently the band is in the process of gathering resources to travel to San Diego in 2012 to perform at the Holiday Bowl.

Those interested in donating their efforts or making a contribution to the Illinois Valley Central band are invited to contact Matt Chapman at 274-5481.