Making noise: Morton High marching band takes talents to nationals

Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 7:21 PM CST
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MORTON (25 News Now) - A group of local students are marching toward history.

Morton High School’s marching band performed on the stage of a lifetime at the Grand National Championships in Indianapolis over the weekend. After a year of preparation, what was originally an annual six-movement performance transformed into a chance to show off the talent the Pumpkin Capital of the World has to offer. It marks the farthest the band has ever gone in the program’s history. After taking home the title of Grand Champion at the Illinois State Competition, the next stop at Lucas Oil Stadium lead them to breaking a school record in the process.

It’s become a ‘matter’ of perspective, relevant since the performance is all about each state of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. For the championships, the band was placed alongside schools of similar sizes into the ‘2A’ class tier, typically reserved for smaller schools. A two-day preliminary competition precedes the semi-final round. Morton was able to make it as far as the semis, placing second in their class and 19 overall among 100 bands competing from across the country.

It’s an accomplishment of which the scale is not lost on those who achieved it.

“My favorite part is always when you go down Lucas Oil into kind of the underbelly of the stadium, you get to walk right by the football player entrance and look up at the jumbotron,” says Craig Hatter, Assistant Band Director. “The freshmen realize this is something bigger than us.”

For many, there’s only one way to describe this latest season.

“This whole year has been magical,” says Director of Bands Tim Gray. “We just kept winning, then we won state, and all these things, and it’s just been one of those years where everything seemed to align for us.”

“To go compete at the national level, get second place in our class, it’s just a really, really fantastic thing,” adds Hatter.

The excitement is the most evident among the students themselves. Some described it as a “surreal” experience, a word that they say gets thrown out often. After the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, students have felt reinvigorated to get back into their performances. With the appearance at the Championships, students add it makes it all worth it.

“It feels amazing,” says senior Kurt Zwetz. “It has exceeded any expectations we could possibly have, so I’m proud of what we’ve been able to push to do.”

It’s also a point of pride for the community. Program directors say support has come pouring in from residents across the area, including phone calls, emails, texts, and everything in between expressing support for the band’s accomplishments. According to Gray, at a school of only 900 students like Morton, something like this shouldn’t even exist. Because of that, more eyes than most from across the music community are on them.

“That’s something that we really emphasize to the students, that when we’re on the road, it might be the only interaction (they have) with somebody from Morton.”

Alongside the memories from making it so far comes the bonds formed along the way. For many involved in the program, marching band has been a part of their lives as far back as sixth grade.

“We’re really close as sections and band as a whole, and I value that so much,” says senior Allison Milby.

For some students, it’s a bar they’re ready to raise. For others, it’s the end of the road. It marks a bittersweet moment, with the bar set high for those following the footsteps of the upperclassmen.

Several seniors offered words of wisdom for those that will follow.

“Hold on to the experiences that they give you here. You’re not going to get anything like it,” says Milby.

As students celebrate their accomplishments, many are preparing to move over to other music programs at the school in the off-season. There’s not much time to rest on their laurels, though. Gray says in about three weeks, the directors will begin their preparations for next year’s performance.