Millikan Marching Band is making historic strides

The past eight years under director Rudolf Picanco have marked a steady improvement for the Millikan High School marching band, and the Rams have been able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Their hard work and dedication resulted in a third place finish in their divisions of the regional California State Band Championships late last year, and then they placed fifth in the state competition. Both accomplishments are firsts in Millikan history.

“It was a thrill,” senior section leader Jon Vital said of succeeding in competition. “We put in a lot of specific work for seven minutes of music. And then once we put it onto the field and perfect it and perform, it just feels amazing to get those scores. It’s a token of our hard work.”

The CSBC competition is split into north and south regions, where each band is scored in its division on a scale up to 100 that rewards things such as notable ensemble, color guard, musicianship, marching choreography and drums. Millikan had never scored above 83, but it moved up four spots in the state competition with an 89.6 score.

“What you’ve always done doesn’t have to be the limit,” Picanco said. “I wanted to broaden their expectations. It was bringing a different mentality, standard and emotional connection for what it means to be a part of these programs.”

Millikan’s performance incorporated music based on Björk’s song “New World” with influences from Disney+ shows “Loki” and “Moon Knight.” Picanco said the overall theme of how the show worked together made a lot of sense, and that the “wow moments” keep your attention.

“I liked finding the moments in the music where you can hear the emotion,” color guard captain Jade Donohoe said. “Like certain parts of the music where there’s a key change or a certain instrument that’s being emphasized. … That’s the most fun.”

Picanco thinks the dedication and leadership from seniors like Vital and Donohoe were key to improving the program enough to make history and take its total enrollment from 83 to 144 members.

Vital has been playing piano since he was 6 and plays for Millikan’s top jazz bands, piano and percussion for the symphonic winds program, symphonic orchestra and others. He currently serves as the front ensemble section leader for the percussion pit. He’s also responsible for setting up the power for equipment and dialing in the equalizers.

Donohoe is one of three color guard captains after four years on the squad and thinks the bonds she’s made with her teammates is the best part of the experience. But it’s also fun to fling huge flags in the air.

“They’re not really heavy, but when you toss it in the air, to rotate it correctly while battling the wind, you have to use a lot of force and momentum to get them up,” Donohoe said. “It’s a lot of time and dedication, although to most people—when they watch, it looks like an easy task, it really is something that challenges every student. You not only have to have the right mindset, you also have to be willing to put yourself in a position to learn and to fail before you succeed.”

Vital hopes the success and attention can spark more music from the Long Beach Unified School District.

“I don’t think the music programs in the LBUSD have gotten enough recognition for how talented Long Beach is as a city of music,” he said. “I think it’s a necessity to get all of the music programs to skyrocket the same way that we have.”

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