Back on Track

A personal tragedy almost derails one young student’s musical endeavors, but family tradition and support from teachers help him catch up and become a leader in the band.

Hello everyone, my name is Matt Mackowiak, and I am a senior at South Bend Washington High School in South Bend, Ind.

I started band in 4th grade in summer camp at South Bend Washington High School where I picked up the trumpet. The summer camp was scheduled for two weeks long, but I attended only one of them because my family and I were going on vacation.

The second week of our vacation, we received a phone call from my grandma. My mom answered the phone, and all of a sudden she began to tear up. Ted Lilly, the camp’s band director—the same band director that would have been my high school band director and who had been my mom’s band director—passed away from a heart attack. I was devastated. I never fully recovered from that day, and I don’t think I ever will, but life goes on.

For three years I didn’t pick up a trumpet or any other instrument. Over that period, my family tried to get me back into music. Finally my mom asked me what I wanted to play, and I said percussion. Nobody in my family played percussion; they all played a brass or a woodwind instrument. So I was the oddball in the family, the percussionist.

Hooked on Band

In 2002 my uncle took me down to the Indiana State School Music Association (ISSMA) State Finals at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. My life was changed forever.

I can still remember the bands that won all the classes: Carmel in A, Avon in B, Norwell in C and Paoli in D. From 10 in the morning to 11 at night, I watched nonstop marching band, and then I was hooked. Ever since that day, I have not missed a State Finals performance, and I plan to keep it that way.

Starting in 7th grade, I started taking private percussion lessons up at Lakeshore High School in Michigan. My director, Ron Hull, was one of the coolest guys you can meet. He is any percussionist’s dream teacher. But being a 7th grader coming in on a new instrument, I was far behind for someone my age.

Mr. Hull started me out on snare, and that’s the only thing we worked on. He worked me so much that a year went by, and I was caught up to where I should be.

A Higher Level

Then going into high school, my freshman year I marched snare! That year our show was “West Side Story”—my favorite show that I got to march. Coming in and being able to play with upperclassmen on snare made a big impact on me.

Then, my sophomore year, I marched snare again and became section leader for percussion. My sophomore year’s show was called “Lights, Cameras, Action,” music from the movies. I really did not care for this show, but we received gold at the ISSMA Festival class for the first time in more than five years.

During spring break in my sophomore year, our marching band took a trip down to Walt Disney World to march and just enjoy ourselves. On the way down to Disney, we talked about who would try out for drum major. At the time I did not plan on auditioning, but after the week in Florida, I had changed my mind.

I felt really nervous during the week of tryouts. We had to conduct the band for two songs, “The Star Spangled Banner” and the “Minnesota Rouser” (our school song). After all was done, I became our school’s next drum major.

My junior year we had a fun show; we got to put on “Grease.” But this year had more meaning than any other one before. My co-drum major was Alysen Lilly. She is the daughter of Mr. Lilly—the same Mr. Lilly who was my summer camp director. Alysen and I were already good friends before we both became drum majors. She was the first person to come up to me during my freshman band camp, and we have been good friends since. That year I realized that marching band was more than just music and marching; it was the friends and relationships we build along the way.

Last Hurrah?

Then after a fun junior year, it finally hit me. I have come to my final year in marching band. I am a senior and the leader of my band.

During that summer I went down to Indiana State University Drum Major Camp with our other drum major, Amber Ritchie. I learned so much from my private instructor, and I built even more confidence in conducting. Soon enough, we were marching at football games and contests.

Then the week of ISSMA Festival District Competition arrived. I was not ready for my season to end, but I knew it was going to come at some point. But how it ended is not how I planned it to be. During the awards ceremony, the announcer called out, “South Bend Washington … silver.” My heart dropped, but I still stepped out with my head held high and received the trophy. When we got back to the bus, our directors talked to us and said, “The only reason we got silver was because of a time penalty.”

Now with marching season over, I have moved on to pep band and concert season. When I look back and see how far I have come, I am proud of myself and how I overcame my defeats.

Next fall I am going to be attending Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Also, this summer I will be marching with Capital Sound Drum and Bugle Corps out of Madison, Wis. I am very excited about this opportunity, and I am just thrilled to extend my marching career just a little bit longer.

About the Author

Matt Mackowiak is a senior at South Bend Washington High School in South Bend, Ind., where he plays percussion instruments and served as the marching band drum major for the past two seasons. This summer, he will be serving as drum major with Capital Sound Drum and Bugle Corps from Madison, Wis. He plans on attending Ball State University and majoring in pre-dental.

Photo by Prestige Portraits by Lifetouch. All rights reserved.