Blue Water Healthy Living

The 2017-2018 Big Red Marching Machine

The 2017-2018 Big Red Marching Machine, Scott Jones Director Kevin Hilliker, Senior Drum Major; Brady Butler, Junior Drum Major. Photo: Dave Minock

Changing Lives One Glide Step at a Time

Since the vets returned after the First World War, Port Huron High School has had a marching band. Through the years, the style of marching has changed, from the military troop style, to the energetic high stepping of the 1972 Olympic BRMM, to the “gliding stride” of the popular Drum and Bugle Corps.

The high step is just what the name implies. The thigh of the marcher is lifted until it is parallel to the ground, toes pointed.  This takes a lot of energy! Characteristic of the 1972 BRMM, the first step is even higher with a backward torso tilt. You may have even heard the band yell “Chair!” The high step makes white spats flash and looks fancy. The Univ. of Michigan And M.S.U. Bands are known for their high step.  

2017 BRMM rolling “glide stride.”
Photo: Dave Minock

The glide step is smooth. It’s more of a walking motion, but harder to balance. It uses a continuous, rolling heel to toe gesture. Shoes are made with a rounded heel to make the step even smoother.  The great benefit of this style is to let you to keep your torso absolutely still which makes it much easier to play your instrument well.  Marching “Drum and Bugle Corps” style is more than the marching movement.  When you go to the BRMM half time or post game shows, you’ll hear and see a difference.  The signature BRMM brass wall of sound well rounded by the winds is always facing you. You’ll see more geometrics and rounded shapes from the BRMM than many other marching bands these days. The first time I tried to play my flute while I was marching with the ’72 band, it kept bouncing off my face.  It must be a delight to march this style.

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Uniforms have changed from a more “military style” wool formal jacket and pants with a stiff collared, heavy wool overlay to light weight, easier to wear geometric jackets and bib pants.  

First known photo of the PHHS Band. In this 1927 photo the Band sports their new marching uniforms. Dir. Ernie Straffon pictured standing with white conductor’s hat (shorter gentleman).  Son Ray, standing far left (holding tuba).  PHHS Band has always been a family thing.  Grandchildren, Gary (sousaphone) and Sue (Baritone and Flags) were in the Olympic BRMM.

Embracing these inevitable changes, the 2017-2018 BRMM continues the 95 year tradition of committing to be excellent at what they do. There is an appreciation of what has come before, and a tenacious pride in the future they’re shaping for themselves.  None of this is by accident.

“One of the main reasons I’m at PH is the history behind the band.” Scott Jones

Scott Jones, PHHS Director of Bands. Photo: PHHS Bands

Jones, Director of Bands at PH since 2012, talks about the Port Huron High School Fight Song and Alma Mater. It is most commonplace that schools plagiarize a nearby college fight song. In 1941, Orville Payton, Director Eric Payton’s brother, won a school – wide contest with his composition. The original score hangs in Jone’s office. Ever since, it has been played at nearly every event the BRMM has marched in. This includes many Hudson’s Thanksgiving Day Parades in Detroit. The Alma Mater is also an original piece and is now played after every event by the current BRMM.  

Under Jone’s baton, the 2017-2018 elite, audition-only BRMM is coming off the fall festival and football season with a prestigious ninth-in-a-row First Division rating at the annual Michigan Band and Orchestra Association contest. This is the longest First Division rating on record for the organization. They were also recently voted “Best Marching Band”, and given The Frenzy Award, competing against all other marching bands in southeast Michigan. The trophy and contest was sponsored by WDIV, Fox 4 in Detroit.

Winners of the 2017 Frenzy Award for Best Marching Band.  Photo: Dave Minock

Thanks from help from alumni Jeremiah May, the band started a new PH tradition of Holiday Studio Session Concerts involving several other departments at the school.

Presently, they’re getting ready for the upcoming Blue Water Festival of Bands, February 24 at the PH Performing Arts Center. They will be playing with other area bands and working with clinicians to fine tune pieces for their annual Winter Concert. The Winter Concert is Thursday, March 1, at the PH Performing Arts Center, 7:00 PM

The list of trophies and achievements is as long as my arm, but what is most impressive is the level of success achieved with very scant resources. The impassioned BRMM members and director have overcome those odds to make it happen.   

1972 Sousaphones rocking to the parade drum cadence.  Berlin. The same sousaphones  were still in use by today’s BRMM.  Photo: Courtesy  Sally Slumpf Basnaw

For a band that has a 95 year history, it also has instruments with a lot of history. The instruments get marched with in all kinds of inclement weather and conditions on the parade route and the football field.  Wear and tear is tremendous as are the occasional accidents.  I remember an incident when the band made the traditional “shoot” formation for the football team to run through.  One of the burliest players plowed into a snare drummer.  It was an ugly sight. The drum was retired, fortunately the drummer was not.

Drum lines (the section of marching percussion on the field) last 10 years, baring enthusiastic football players. The big brass instruments like the sousaphones can be stretched a year or two longer if the school has a good repair budget. Uniforms last about the same length of time.  Jones showed that shockingly, the band was still using the brass and fiberglass sousaphones that were played by the BRMM in Germany in 1972. The “Voice of the Big Red Marching Machine”, alumni Jim Langolf, showed me the 70 year old brass sousaphone still in use his father played. A magician – like orchestration of funds on Jone’s part, the unfaltering determination of a handful of Band Booster members, and a good respect for the equipment have helped. But at a point, with Bondo, duct tape, and spray paint, the instruments were bad. The band was limping by.  

No matter how enthusiastic or determined a band is, good instruments make a band.

Today’s band only has benefactors from the school’s immediate area. Parents and neighbors supporting the band efforts are the same donors giving to the robotics, cheering, and other clubs at PH and all the other nearby schools. Since the recession, the per capita income is less than before.

“The BRMM kids are the biggest change agent in the entire school.” Scott Jones

In spite of these obstacles, the BRMM, its director, and the Band Boosters (the volunteer organization that keeps the BRMM running with their own labor and fund raising), worked, scrimped, and saved $45,000. to purchase 3 new sousaphones, and special harmony instruments. Another $15,000. was raised to replace their 12 year old marching drumline. In the tradition of stretching every dime, the still functioning retired instruments were given to PH’s main feeder school, the Central Middle School Bands, Shawna Manhart, Dir.  The BRMM retired but kept the 70 year old Sousaphone. It lasted that long and needed the honor.

BRMM members with some of the instruments made possible by the Band Boosters: Aaron Bonner (Sousaphone), Alayna McDonald (Soprano Sax), Kyle Williams (Drum), Adam Nowiski (Marching Baritone), Isaac Bonner (Bass Trombone). Photo: S. Jones

The Boosters sponsored an event that solely raised $9,000. to purchase an equipment trailer to protect the new instruments so they wouldn’t need to rely on a myriad of parent’s vehicles to transport them to events. See more information below about the important role of the PHHS Band Boosters.

The New  BRMM silver sousaphones. Photo: PHHS Bands

Even with these great fundraising efforts, the funds covered a fraction of the equipment sorely needed. Drum and Bugle Corps style presentations show off music of different tempos and styles. Traditional off-the-rack sheet music marches don’t work. A year’s music arranged for the BRMM costs $6,000. The Band’s uniforms are on their tenth year. The school district only provides a small repair budget. That still left the majority of the antique marching instruments still in use.  More Bondo anyone?

Next time around:  

  • The community steps up to help.
  • The BRMM’s upcoming Recuiting Extravaganza.
  • Why the Big Red’s Marching Machine story is important to the students and our community.

“It takes an army to keep the BRMM running.” David Minock, President PHHS Band Boosters

To excel even further, help in the form of pitching in a few hours of time or funds to keep the band functioning is still needed. Their calling is not just fundraising though.  Music and funds for repairs were not included in the bond and are still critical. Be their hero. Let the Boosters know you can lend a hand. Alumni, parents whose kids have grown, and community neighbors are welcome as are monetary donations.  The PHHS Band Boosters is a 501C3 charitable organization.

Write Dave Minock, Band Booster Pres. :

Call or text him: 810-334-7373

Send donations to:   PHHS Band Boosters

     P.O. Box 611606

     Port Huron, MI 48060

For more information on the Big Red Marching Machine, or to check out some Videos of them in action click here!

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Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.



Pat North, a native of Port Huron, graduated from Port Huron High School and is a proud alumna of the 1972 Big Reds Marching Machine Germany band. She holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Flute Performance from the College Conservatory of Music, Univ. of Cincinnati, with graduate studies at the Univ. of Illinois where she also received her Pilot’s license. Pat was apprenticed to professional flute builder, Jack Moore, and later started her own company, Cincinnati Fluteworks, in 1980, specializing in the technical and acoustical aspects of the construction of the flute as well as branding. She authors a quarterly technical and promotional newsletter for the company. In addition to her passion for the flute, she hosted and produced community radio and TV programs, focused on civil rights and justice issues. Her other passion is for Standard Schnauzers. Pat produced and was co-editor of The Standard Schnauzer Club of America’s Source Book 4, as well as several other educational interactive and print publications for them. She lives in Cincinnati with her very own home bred Standards, but once a Michigander, always a Michigander.

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1 comment

The Big Reds Marching Machine - Then, and NOW! Part Four - Blue Water Healthy Living May 22, 2018 at 11:17 am

[…] To go to earlier articles in the series, click here. […]


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