Pontiac All Star Marching Band connects ages with vast sound

By Natalie Broda
The Oakland Press

PONTIAC (AP) - If the Pontiac All Star Marching Band has anything to say about it, show-style marching is back to stay in the city.

The roughly 30-member marching band formed this June under the direction of Dennis Thompson and Lemarr Hunt, old band rivals who graduated from Pontiac Central High School and Pontiac Northern High School, respectively. The group is looking to build a community of musicians that bridge generational gaps and perform throughout the area, while reigniting the culture of show-style marching in the city, The Oakland Press reported. Show-style marching, unlike competitive marching, is more about performance and expression than it is about perfecting strict techniques of military-inspired marching.

It's comprised of Pontiac School District students and alumni, ranging in ages from 11 to 36. They most recently performed during the Woodward Dream Cruise and were invited to open for the State of the City Address, the city's Puerto Rican Festival and several community events.

Thompson, who has performed in every level of band from middle school to graduating with a degree in music education from Paul Quinn College in Texas, said he wanted to start up the band due to the diminishing level of music programs throughout the city. He's partnered with the city's youth recreation center, where the band and dance team practices.

"The city has a rich, 70-plus year history of musical awards and achievements. My commitment to this band and this music is to revitalize the performing arts here in Pontiac," Thompson said. "I just want to give these kids the kind of experience we had, we want, and something we currently don't have."

Beyond the music, Thompson is hopeful the group will help land scholarships for some of its students.

"The numbers show that students have a 75% better chance to receive a band scholarship than they do an athletic scholarship," he said. "The goal is to put these kids through school. If I can put a scholarship in their hands and send them across the country to play, that's a real opportunity."

Marching bands, much like sports teams, require a certain amount of discipline and athleticism. Thompson said he's seen firsthand how marching bands can build character.

Imari Knight, 13, is a dancer on the band's Elegant Queens dance team. She attended Pontiac's Herrington Elementary before transferring to Avondale schools and has been dancing a little of everything, besides ballet, for the past five-years.

"When I joined the band, I was really shy and quiet at first. But I just wanted to do something with my time and dancing is something I really wanted to do," Knight said. "Confidence is what I think I'm getting out of all of this. It's a struggle, but it's worth it."

Katyla Slaton, the team's dance instructor and a dancer of 22-years, agrees. She's eight-and-a-half months pregnant now, but still coaching the team, which has at least three generations of girls dancing in it. Like any performing art, practice can be grueling. But at the end of the day, Slaton said she knows the women she's instructing are healthier, more expressive, learning discipline and of course, having fun.

"The art of dancing, walking and marching is a lot to learn, but once they grasp it, it's so rewarding to see," she said. "There's highs and lows and everyone works hard. It's beautiful."

All of the Pontiac All Star Marching Band's instruments were donated by either members of the community or the Pontiac School District. Many of them will need to be returned to the district come fall, so the band has put the call-out for either monetary donations or donations of instruments to keep the music playing. Thompson said the group has plans to perform year-round and is always accepting new members.

Thompson said he is also in talks with the school district to combine their music education efforts in the future.

"I don't know a single band director in the United States who would say they have a big enough band," he said.

The band is scheduled to perform at Pontiac Mayor Deirdre Waterman's Jam Session on Nov. 3 and the annual Holiday Extravaganza parade on Dec. 7 in Pontiac.

Published: Mon, Sep 16, 2019