It was early fall of 2015 when Samuel McIlhagga, an associate professor and director of bands at Albion College, first found out. Because of athletic facility upgrades, the A-Field – where his British Eighth Marching Band has practiced for over 13 years – would be removed, and there wouldn’t be a field available during the normal rehearsal time to replace it.
According to Athletic Director Matt Arend, the plans for the athletic renovations were first proposed in 2010, then revised and approved by the administration in 2011. The Davis Athletic Complex will have two baseball fields, a soccer/lacrosse arena, as well as two practice fields for the soccer and lacrosse teams. Due to the field arrangement and added bleachers and sidewalks throughout the facility, the extra area that normally is the A-field will be taken up.
As part of the marching band, my fellow classmates and I were updated throughout the semester about potential new practice spaces, such as the area between the gates and front doors of the Dow, the closed down high school or a parking lot marked like a football field. Each of these options would provide their own challenges, whether it would be finding transportation to get students to the high school or eliminating parking spots so the band had space to march.
“The current issue is the time of band rehearsal. With the block scheduling system, athletic practices are not allowed to take place from 8:00a.m. – 4:30p.m.,” said Arend. “Thus, all of the athletic fields are in use from 4:30 – 6:30 by varsity sport teams. If there was flexibility in the time of band rehearsal, the band would have their choice of several different locations in the athletic complex.”
While that is understandable, most of the music ensembles have rehearsal time during 4:30 – 6:30, which leaves room for students to have a full class load as well as other extracurriculars.
“I could [change the time] and run the risk of losing many people because they had class or keep the same rehearsal time and find a different location,” said McIlhagga.
This year the marching band is rehearsing at Victory Park. There are some setbacks with practicing in the park, since the field is not crowned, meaning it doesn’t drain properly. Plus, it technically is not part of the campus either. McIlhagga explains he would prefer those problems if it meant he could have a full football field during a time that won’t overlap with a lot of classes.
When the news broke that we were losing our field, I was shocked and slightly angry. I felt that the band was forgotten somewhere in the process of increasing Albion’s appeal to student-athletes. Maintaining or increasing the appeal of the band programs is just as important for gaining students, both music majors and others. Yes, the band may have had other options, but those options were not ideal to promote people staying in band or continuing to make the band grow.
This problem hits home for many people involved with the arts programs. In school districts dealing with budget cuts, the music programs are often one of the first things to be cut. At a collegiate level, I never expected to wonder if there would be a marching band next year. A music scholarship is one of the reasons I was able to afford coming to Albion College. In order to keep my scholarship, I need to participate in band every semester. If band class wasn’t offered or overlapped with classes I need for my major, I would be forced to consider other options, including transferring. To me, our moving sends the wrong message about which program is valued the most.
“It’s a problem that did not get enough attention soon enough,” said McIlhagga.
Once the Davis Athletic Complex is complete, there will be space between athletic practice fields that the band could use during their marching season in 2017.
Photo by Katie Boni