The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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June 9, 2010

Lancers kick off new season with fresh flavor

New director brings new style, new music

MANKATO — This year’s Lancers show will look nothing like the performances of years past.

New music. New field movements. New ideas. And a new era under the direction of Michael Hench, the 2009 Distinguished Band Director of the Year in Minnesota who accepted the position as leader of the Mankato 77 Lancers marching band this winter.

“These kids are working hard all the time,” said Hench, practicing with a few dozen of his 80-plus musicians in the parking lot of Dakota Meadows Middle School, the location of the Lancers annual, week-long preseason camp.

“They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do and more.”

This year’s show — which carries the theme “Dance for Unity” — is based on a ceremonial Arabian dance (called a “debke”) in which members of a community gather to stomp the ground in preparation for building a house.

The musical arrangements feature a decidedly Arabian flavor that still incorporate the bombast of typical marching music.

Hench also said he’s re-arranging the Lancers’ field movements and marching patterns in order to match the mood of the music. The boxy, rigid marches often associated with parade performances will be replaced with more fluid marches that, Hench admits, will be new to judges.

He said the Lancers show will feature a full minute of dancing, which he said is almost unheard of among marching bands.

Hench and the Lancers begin their performance schedule on Saturday in Fairmont, after playing their traditional Meet the Lancers show on Friday (see sidebar).

“We want to bring some new ideas to the street,” said Hench, who grew up playing in a marching band in Albert Lea, competing often against the Lancers.

“We’re not going to be afraid of being innovative and being creative.”

Senior drum major Jenean Williams said students have embraced the transition.

As a drum major, Williams does not play an instrument (although she is a former piccolo player in Lancers) and instead helps command and direct fellow musicians. With an outside perspective, Williams said she thinks the group is ahead of schedule.

She said this year’s music and the performance are “a lot different than anything we’ve done before.”

Junior drum major Ann Stevens agreed, giving credit to Hench’s personality as an exacting instructor with a drive for perfection and an easy sense of humor.


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