Hersey High School's marching band has been thrilling audiences this football season with a halftime show based on the French Revolution and featuring music from "Les Miserables."
On Saturday, their 10-minute show -- which builds until the commoners revolt and stage a mock execution of the monarchy, represented by the drum major -- thrilled judges at Wheeling High School's 46th annual Chicagoland Marching Band Festival.
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The Marching Huskies were named grand champions of the festival after winning their Class 3A division. They competed in the finals against the Class 1A champion, Wheaton-Warrenville South, and Class 2A champion, Lincoln Way Central.
Hersey's 140-member marching band also finished .15 points ahead of the nationally ranked marching band from Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, which proved to be almost as satisfying as earning the title itself, said Director Scott Casagrande.
"Our home crowds have loved this show," Casagrande said, adding that the mock violence added an excitement factor. "This is the most attention I've had for a halftime show in 15 years."
In all, 23 high school bands competed in the festival, including Waubonsie Valley, Rolling Meadows, Warren Township and Elk Grove.
Wheeling Band Director Brian Logan estimated that between the students from the various bands and spectators that packed both sides of the field, the festival drew nearly 6,000 people.
"It was a record turnout," Logan said. "We had a great lineup of bands, and having the Marching Illini to cap it all off really helped."
The 370-member strong Marching Illini performed music from the band Chicago, followed by their famous Three-in-One medley, that concludes with Illinois alma mater, "Hail to the Orange."
Wheeling's festival comes at a good time for high school bands during the fall competition season. In just three weeks many suburban bands will travel to the Illinois Marching Band Championship at Illinois State University in Normal and the Illini Marching Band Championships at the University of Illinois in Champaign, both taking place Oct. 12.
"Everything we do is in preparation for the ISU contest," Casagrande said. "Our show is 85 pages (of music) long, and we're at 80 pages right now, so we're nearly there."
The host Wheeling Wildcats performed their award-winning show in exhibition. Their performance featured the music of Bill Chase, with its brass and jazz-rock styles, and opened by solo trumpeter Ron Roth, a senior from Wheeling.
"It was a banner year our festival this year," Logan said. "The weather was perfect, the bands were great and the competition was fierce. It was a great day for Wheeling High School and for the bands that attended."