Friday, September 24, 2010

The Friday Feature: James Batcheller runs Chippewa Marching Band like a championship team

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || September 24, 2010

What the heck, he thought.

Why not come home to Michigan, after a healthy cross-country trip to Florida, Montana, Oklahoma and back? Why not come back to his alma mater to direct the same marching band he once marched in?

“So I threw my hat into the ring,” said James Batcheller, a 1986 Central Michigan graduate and director of the Chippewa Marching Band. “And I’ve been here ever since.”

He’s been here, coaching music on a practice football field just off East Campus Drive since 2000, when he joined CMU as associate director of bands, replacing Jack Saunders after his retirement.

“It’s been coming back to a place that I know and I love,” he said.

This is a post-anniversary year of sorts for Batcheller who, last year, celebrated both his 50th birthday and 10th consecutive year at Central Michigan, the latter of which he received “a nice little pat on the back for.”

These days, he oversees a band of 275 members, about 50 more than when he started a decade ago.

“We just don’t have any more uniforms,” he said, laughing behind thin-rimmed glasses on a warm and sunny September afternoon. “We’re at capacity.”

He grew up listening to great music: his mother played the coronet, his aunts and uncles all played instruments, his grandfather was a pianist, and his father, well, his father likes to say he was the first guy on his block to have a stereo amplifier.

He said his career in music was a natural fit.

A championship team

“Putting a marching band together, putting any kind of music ensemble together is very much like putting together a championship football team,” he said. “There’s a level of dedication from every member of the group, and when you don’t have that, there can be no real success.”

It’s Batcheller’s job to not only sustain success, but to set the bar higher from year to year,

“Generally, the band gets better every year,” he said. “It’s the motto of the band.”

Which is why on Thursday, he watched with a close eye with a white whistle around his neck as an army of musicians practiced, played and rehearsed, for a stretch of performances not unlike the football team’s stretch run.

“Every rehearsal should be better than the last one, every performance better than the last one,” he said. “So every year should be better than the last.”

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