The North Middlesex marching band wrapped up its season with a louder bang than usual, clinching two victories from two competition circuits in a single glorious weekend.
The first was the New England Scholastic Band Association, held on Oct. 27 in Lawrence.
The band came first in its division, scoring 93.4 points out of a possible 100. Out of all seven divisions, which consisted of about 30 bands, North Middlesex received the fourth-highest score overall.
"Although winning our division was great, it was even more impressive to receive one of highest scores of day," band director Jason Bielik said.
The divisions were divided by band size; the North Middlesex Marching Band consists of 70 members, 15 of them seventh- and eighth-graders. This was the third year the band has competed in NESBA. The two years prior, the team has come in third in the district, Bielik said.
"So to go from third and finally come in first and win is a really fantastic thing," he said.
But the band's success story was not yet complete. The following day, they competed in the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association competition in Lowell.
Although the competition doesn't pit bands against each other in a traditional sense, each band aspires to achieve a rating of bronze, silver or gold medal, according to Bielik. The competition consisted of 35 bands.
"Out of the whole entire state this year, they only gave out two gold medals and we were one of two teams to get them," he said.
To sweeten the victory, this was the first time in more than two decades of competing on the MICCA circuit that North Middlesex has achieved a gold medal rating.
In both competitions, the band was judged in five categories: how well they play as a group, how interesting the music is, individual performances, the band's marching technique and the whole visual product.
Bielik, who has been band director at North Middlesex for six years, said he was not only proud, but excited for both his band and the instructing staff. The band has been practicing all summer and fall, and has been competing every week, starting the last weekend of September.
"The students really needed this to happen. They really needed to finally get some affirmation from all the hard work they put in," he said. "From the staff's perspective, we really wanted to have our students do well, too, so we could feel we were doing right things by them. We needed the same affirmation they needed."
Throughout his years on the job, Bielik said, this was the first year the entire five-member staff carried over from the previous year. That played a huge role in preparing the students for the competition, he said.
"You just can't do well at these festivals if you don't have a consistent staff to assist you. We were just very happy. We worked the kids so hard. They really deserved the recognition for the things that they were doing," he said.
Still, he said, the season wasn't without its hurdles; at times, Bielik wasn't sure how the season would end.
"We had our ups and downs through the course of the season. It didn't always look like it was going to happen this way," he said. "Basically, we started off exceptionally well, then we had a little bit of a funk in the middle, then finished exceptionally strong. So it was a bit of a roller-coaster season, I would say, for most of us."
Beyond merely rising above and beyond in their competitive circuits, Bielik is proud of his team for their willingness to put themselves out there in the first place. Unlike academics or athletics, he said, competing in marching band is a choice, and not one every school is willing or ready to make.
"To choose to compete is to subject yourself to critique by a panel of experts. What I'm most proud of is we choose to go out and put ourselves into a competitive arena where we're being assessed," he said. "A lot of schools don't."
The incredible outcome for the marching band's season had an ironic twist, Bielik said; if the Aug. 28 election had voted down the school district's request for a Proposition 2 1/2 override, he doubts the major success would have taken place.
"(If the override didn't pass) it probably wouldn't have happened at all," he said. "It's a really interesting turn of events where it almost didn't happen."