The Salem Marching Blue had never had a first-place finish in a finals competition, until now.

The band took the field Oct. 12 for its final festival of the year, the 2019 Ozark Mountain Marching Festival near Branson. The rest is now written in Salem High School history.

The Salem Marching Blue competed in three marching festivals this fall. Six judges critique a different portion of the band’s performance. Two judge music, two visual, one color guard and one percussion. These scores are then combined to give an overall score out of 100 possible points.

Caption awards are handed out for each category. Every band that enters the festival is guaranteed one performance in preliminary competition. Top scoring bands will receive an invitation to perform again in what is called finals.

Salem Marching Blue received first place twice and second place once in its preliminary rounds. Each score was high enough for an invitation to finals.

Salem Marching Blue beat out 15 other bands to receive first place overall in finals with a score of 83.425. In preliminaries, the band swept the board by winning every caption award in music, visual, percussion and color guard. In the finals round they also won music, visual and color guard.

“What an amazing accomplishment for the Salem Marching Blue, as they continue to be a model of success,” said band director David Schatz. “They have proven that excellence is not measured by the size of the school, band or budget. It is measured by the effort and passion you put into what you do.”

The Salem Marching Blue was established in 1985 under the direction of Jim Cunningham, and began participation on the marching competitive circuit.

Many groups have had success over the 34 or so years, but this is the first, first-place finish, according to Schatz.

Schatz began his journey in Salem in 2014. In the past five years, with Schatz in the driver’s seat, the band has seen intense growth in the field. About 40 members were enrolled in 2014. In 2019, there are 63.

The band has seen continued success in each marching competition season.

A group interview was conducted recently to gauge reactions from students on the triumphs of this year’s season.

Why the growth?

Many students had siblings, or even parents, who were involved with band in high school. Some wanted to follow in their footsteps. Others enjoyed music and wanted to be able to learn more and build their confidence. A few were instructed by their parents to join, but have ended up finding their place and loving every minute.

An interesting side note to the growth is the amount of rural school students who are a part of the band. Over a third of the students raised their hands when asked if they were from a rural school. Only North Wood R-IV has a band program available before ninth grade. In the past few years, the band and choir have been recruiting members through rural school tours and other events so students can know what options they have for music upon reaching Salem High School.

Did this year feel different when the band started?

Upper classmen reported it did. They commended Schatz for creating the entire show, start to finish. He spent an exorbitant amount of time arranging the music and show, according to assistant director Scott Fredrickson. Several students were excited to build upon past successes, therefore they had greater expectations for this marching season.

Freshmen students said they began to believe they were joining a family after band camp. The seniors had a motto of “set the standard.” They used those words to guide their leadership the entire season.

“I told the students at the beginning of the year they were not the most talented group of students,” Schatz said. “A quote I shared with them was, ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ This year’s group lived up to that old saying and were rewarded for their efforts.”

What comes next?

There are over a dozen seniors who are passing the torch as they graduate. They said it is time to grow up, they are sad to leave, but happy they made the statement and are leaving on a high note. They are looking forward to coming back to see the 2020 show and watching the band be successful in years to come. About half of them plan to pursue music in other ways such as drum corps, audio visual technician, college marching band, producer, professional artist and playing in a band for fun.

You cannot mention Salem Marching Blue without mentioning the Salem Band Parent Organization. The hardworking group raises funds to support the band and color guard. The organization assists the band through college scholarships, transportation of instruments, meals at marching competitions and much more.

You see the “much more” at Friday-night football games when they assist in moving instruments. Or when they leave at the crack of dawn, along with the band, all while winning consistent chuckwagon awards for the presentation of the meals provided while in competition. They build props, have bake sales, barbeques and sell funnel cakes.

According to Schatz, Salem administration has done a good job of building a great team of educators to lead the Salem Marching Blue that includes assistant band directors Scott Frederickson and Leannette Beeson. In addition, Schatz wife Kelsey coaches Color Guard, Cole Heisler helps percussion, and Matt Parker runs the electronics for the show.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our group of students, their families, community members and anyone else that helped support the Salem Marching Blue to make history,” said Schatz.

Senior member and drum major Jonithan Gallagher said it best.

“I was just glad that I was able to help this band make history. What a way to go out for my senior year. I’ll never forget it. We ended the season with an exclamation point, not a period.”