Staying overnight at Allerton Park’s 4-H campground is a tradition for the Mahomet-Seymour Marching Band.
It’s also a moment of transformation.
The overnight stay at Allerton, near Monticello, marks the completion of the students’ journey to learn the entire show as Band Directors Michael Stevens and Phil Meyers teach the final drills to the group.
But something a little more magical happens within each band member during the annual event.
The students begin to realize they are part of something bigger than themselves.
“Every year at Allerton, and right after Allerton, we have this little boost of energy and camaraderie. The band is closer together.” Stevens said.
For more than 20 years, the marching band has arrived at Allerton Park, located in Monticello, around 5 or 6 p.m. on a Friday. They eat dinner and spend time together before joining forces to practice the music under the starlight.
“We’ve played the music a million times, so that’s not the point,” Stevens said. “Some years it is, but most years it’s let’s all get on the same page as far as what our goals are. I always try to insight a little of my wisdom from years of doing this.
“It’s more to bring the band together to bond them as we are on a mission together. And it takes all of us together.”
Parents get in on the togetherness, too. While some chaperones stay at camp, others arrive around 7:30 p.m. after having dinner together at a local Monticello restaurant.
By the time they arrive at camp, the band is ready for one of its final performances of the night.
But before being dismissed at the campfire, Stevens and Meyers make sure their band is musically in tune.
“There are reasons why we have successes and reasons why we have failures and let’s find out what those are and try to move forward as a group,” Stevens said.
While some underclassmen would rather go to their cabin to sleep or play games and eat junk food, the entire band gathers around a bonfire to listen to the graduating seniors share their experiences as a member of the marching band.
“It’s probably their one and only opportunity to explain to the underclassmen who really don’t understand yet what this means to a lot of them,” Stevens said.
The class of 2018-19 laughed hysterically about their time in Phoenix, AZ., in 2014 as the band prepared to march in the Fiesta Bowl. Others shared stories of struggles throughout the band program; whether it was finding the right instrument or wondering if they belonged anywhere, the graduating class said that band has been their home and their family over an eight-year span.
Some seniors talked about being shy, feeling awkward or depressed and how band helped them gain leadership skills, gave them a place to be weird and gain strength by continually trying to better themselves through music.
One senior bestowed wisdom, telling underclassmen that it’s “up to you and only you to decide how (marching band) will affect you.”
A trombone player said, “Now I’m happy I learned to love myself, learned kindness and learned to love marching band.”
After hearing years upon years of senior speeches, Stevens said the themes are generally similar.
“The running theme is, ‘I didn’t know I was going to like band. At first it was hard, and then all of a sudden this light clicked on, and now it’s great and I love it.’ That’s a running theme forever and ever.”
Underclassmen and onlooking seniors played “Senior Speech BINGO” while listening. They looked for common statements, such as the seniors thanking Stevens and Meyers for their time and dedication or talking about how band is like family.
After every senior who wants to talk does, students are sent back to their cabins with their chaperones, until breakfast.
But many times it’s not lights out. One year a senior worked with a chaperone to have a lobster boil after senior speeches. Another year, students brought music and a synchronized light show for a dance party. And many times, students have been known to bring microwaves, televisions and gaming stations to play prior to falling asleep.
No matter what time the students fall asleep, they are awakened a little after 7 a.m. by the drumline, which marches throughout the campground.
After gathering in the breakfast hall, the band begins practice on a line field, surrounded by trees, at 9 a.m.
Stevens was pleased with work this year’s band did on their show “Outbreak” Saturday.
“Generally, at Allerton, we have between 15-20 set points to learn. This year we had 10, which was nice. We had more time to learn it in a more solid way.
“And because of that we could let the kids feel more comfortable with the drill because of the repetition that we did.
“A lot of times we’re just scrambling on the field and then we come back to Mahomet and there’s still a lot of refresher that has to go on with everything we did. (Tuesday) we went to the field, still 99% in the memory bank.”
But, for Stevens, the repetition isn’t only about what’s in the student’s memory bank for the show.
He also takes time to pause with his graduating class to reminisce over the last eight years during “Senior Walk.”
Underclassmen and parents aren’t sure what happens on “Senior Walk.” And Stevens jokes that “What happens on Senior Walk, stays on Senior Walk.”
“It’s mostly a way for me to thank the seniors for their time. For all they’ve done,” he said.
The band will continue to perfect the show over the course of the next week before it travels to Limestone High School, in Bartonville, for its first competition on Oct. 6.