Red Cedar Festival of Community Bands Returns to Okemos

Red Cedar Festival of Community Bands Returns to Okemos

OKEMOS - Throughout Okemos High School on March 3, there were sounds of buzzers and screaming fans as a basketball game took place in the gym. Down the hall and around the corner, there were sounds of trumpets, flutes, trombones and about every other musical instrument one could imagine.

These sounds came from the Red Cedar Festival of Community Bands, an annual event that was founded in 1995 by Carolyn Sherrill, Robert Copeland and Dana B. Swanson.

During the festival, over 700 musicians from 12 different bands from across the state gathered to perform in front of a live audience and get critiqued by a panel of judges called adjudicators.

Bands involved in the festival came from near and far, including DeWitt, Grand Ledge, Midland and Okemos’ very own Meridian Community Band.

Thomas Gillette, who is the Music Director of Meridian Community Band, spent roughly one month selecting the music the band performed in the show. Their theme for the show was “Pure Michigan,” featuring six pieces written by Michigan composers.

Gillette said various factors are considered when selecting music.

“We have people of varying degrees,” Gillette said. “We’ve got some people who haven’t touched their instrument in 30 years. We’ve got other people who have played through college and they’re at a professional level. We have to pick music that's accessible to everyone—that challenges the more advanced players but doesn't defeat the other ones. At the same time, we've got to please the audience and it needs to be meaningful and good music."

During their performance, Meridian Community Band had 95-year-old Henry Nelson guest conduct.

“Henry’s a local legend, and everyone in town knows that—everyone in mid-Michigan knows," Gillette said. "He’s a great conductor [and] great guy, and it’s good for the band to be under any great conductor."

Carolyn Sherrill helped create the festival when she was the Music Director of Meridian Community Band (a position Gillette took over a year and a half ago when Sherrill retired). She created the festival to promote musical growth in adults.

“We started it to provide adults with the same types of growth opportunities that high school kids have when they go to the MSBOA district and state band festival,” Sherrill said. “Our goals are to promote music as a lifelong activity and to provide educational opportunities for adult learners [and] free performance opportunities for the local community to come and hear bands play.”

When the Meridian Community Band finished their performance and walked off stage, they had one more task: to be critiqued by an adjudicator, who had nothing but positive things to say about the band and a piece of useful advice along the way.

"Learn your part away from the rehearsal so you can come to rehearsal and learn everybody else's part,” he said.

At the end of the festival, Gillette had one specific goal for the band: he wanted it to “feel a sense of accomplishment.

“There’s something really rewarding about a group achieving a goal, and to me, there’s no fun without a lot of hard work,” Gillette said. “It’s ultimately, hard work leads to fun, and there’s no shortcut for that.”

Additional Resources

More information about the Meridian Community Band can be found at


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