Marching Illini to host 43rd annual band competition

The 43rd annual Illini Marching Band Championship on Oct. 12 will bring more than 5,000 student performers to Memorial Stadium as a part of the oldest major marching band competition open to all Illinois high schools.

“We have bands from across the state representing all school sizes and they are broken up into six different classifications,” said Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini and athletic bands. “Fifty high school bands are going to compete with one another in front of renowned adjudicators (judges) from across the country.”

The championship this Saturday will begin at 8 a.m. and will end with an exhibition performance by the Marching Illini in the evening. There is expected to be 15,000 to 20,000 people in attendance.

“It’s exciting because it’s just going to be band performances straight through the day,” Houser said.

Performing during this particular event holds a lot of significance for many Marching Illini members, like LAS senior and mellophone player Greg Schwarz.

“It’s a special experience because my former high school marching band goes here to compete,” Schwarz said. “So the big thing is that I get to march in front of my old high school band director who really got me to love marching.”

The competition also draws University alumni like 2001 graduate Ron Fiorito, who was also a Marching Illini.

“I actually went down there as a high school student,” Fiorito said. “That was the first time I saw the Marching Illini, and that was what led me to want to go back to U of I and be a part of that group. And now, I’m offering that same thing to my group of students, a chance to perform in that venue.”

Fiorito will be traveling down with the Elk Grove High School Marching Band that garnered a third place finish last year in the Class 5A division.

“There is a lot of value in going down to this competition,” Fiorito said. “There’s an education value in getting feedback from the judges, and not only that it’s always nice to take students to a college campus that they might be interested in.”

The Illini Marching Band Championship is only one of the special events that Illinois bands host and participate in. During March 13 to 18 of 2014, the Marching Illini will be traveling to Ireland to be a part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin.

“This will be the Marching Illini’s eighth return trip to Ireland since 1992, and we were the first college band to perform there,” Houser said. “We are very excited to make this return trip and give this opportunity to our students.”

Schwarz is looking forward to the chance to travel and perform internationally with the band.

“I haven’t really left the country and I don’t plan to travel abroad so this is going to be a cool experience for me to be able to see other cultures outside of the U.S.,” Schwarz said. “St. Patrick’s Day is a tradition that started in Ireland so the fact that I get to be there for the actual holiday and perform in the parade is really amazing.”

Houser also adds that it is going to be a good opportunity for the Marching Illini to represent the University overseas.

“I think it’ll be great being an ambassador of the University and since we were the first band to be there we sort of have a reputation that precedes us,” Houser said. “So I think this is an awesome opportunity to be able to represent the University in a positive way.”

Julianne can be reached at [email protected]