AMBOY — When students are first entering high school, a parent, grandparent, sibling, or any elder, usually has a comment similar to, “Make the most out of it because it goes fast.’”
And it does.
Whether we’re talking about favorite teachers, favorite subjects, enjoyable or unenjoyable books, sports, lunch time with your besties, or playing an instrument for the band, it seems like you blink or take a deep breath and all four years are gone.
However, Amboy High School music director, Travis Kemmerer, doesn’t want the band experience to end once being a high school student is over. He wants the band alumni to always be Clippers and is inviting them back for the Amboy High School Marching Band Alumni Night on Sept. 9. when the football teams hosts Millidgeville.
“We were just looking for a way to get alumni back involved with the program because of our rich history,” Kemmerer said, who began playing the trombone in sixth grade, graduated from AHS in 2007, and has been the director since 2018. “We thought about having an alumni night before Covid-19, but the idea was delayed a couple of years. We have an extra home football game this year, so we thought we’d give it a try and see how many alumni we can get to join our band.
“We’ve been doing alumni nights during the basketball season for the last couple of years. We get a good turn out, but there are people who want to play under the Friday night lights again. There is just something about playing your instrument under the lights on a football field. It’s different.”
Kemmerer is excited to have the alumni join his active band to perform at halftime.
Sure, he wants to hear melodic, adrenaline pumping music at the Millidgeville and Amboy football game, but he also wants current high school students to learn from the ones who came before them.
“I think it’s really important to have the alumni involved. We actually just dug out all of the trophies,” said Kemmerer. “We were given a trophy case, so we went to the storage area and pulled down the old trophies. We recognized a lot of names that are still in the area.
“Our marching band was competitive at one point. We won competitions at the Autumn On Parade (in Oregon) and at the Kewanee Hog Days. We found a first-place trophy from the 1967 Mendota Sweet Corn Festival. It was pretty cool.
“It would be nice to get some of the older alumni back to talk about the band in the 1970s and 80s.”
Kemmerer took over the Amboy music program when Kathy Mekeel retired with the Class of 2018.
MeKeel was thrilled when she saw there was going to be a marching band alumni night and quickly signed her flute up for the event.
“I really enjoy it. Music has been my life forever,” Mekeel said. “I may have been the first one to sign up to play on alumni night. I’ve played with a lot of them before like at the basketball pep band alumni night last school year. It’s always a lot of fun.
“I haven’t stopped playing. I’m the music director at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church (in Amboy). I play my flute for weddings and funerals, and I teach private lessons at my home. Unless I’m physically unable to, I love to share what I know with others to help make them better.”
Mekeel brings plenty of experience and knowledge to the table as she first picked up an instrument as a fifth grader in 1967, played for AHS until graduation in 1975, and at the University of Illinois.
As a teacher, Mekeel led the band at Streator-Woodland, Dixon, and Amboy.
Kemmerer is always happy to have Mekeel around and is glad she is going to represent the Clippers on Sept. 9.
The band directors are not the only people who can’t wait to play.
“There is actually a lot of excitement from the students,” Kemmerer said. “I was impressed with the amount of excitement. There were a lot of kids saying, ‘My mom played,’ or ‘My dad played.’ It was kind of a cool thing. I figured out who some of the kid’s parents are and I’d say, ‘I actually know them.’ They all seem excited.”
The alumni night also gives an opportunity for some Clippers to have a Senior Night.
When Covid-19 shut sports and the band down, musicians didn’t get to have a proper send off as they were moving on.
The alumni night gives them a chance to return to the crowd they were taken away from.
And if anyone hasn’t opened up their instrument case in a week, months, years, or even decades, Kemmerer isn’t worried about it.
The trophies, the conversations, the history of Amboy band will return to form.
“Playing an instrument is like riding a bike,” Kemmerer said. “You can take a couple of years of and when you get back on, it’s a little wobbly, but once you get your momentum, it comes right back to you.”