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For the first time in Hillsdale history, the Hillsdale College Big Band com­peted in a Battle of the Bands against the Harry James Orchestra. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, stu­dents in the Big Band, directed by Chris McCourry, bonded with the pro­fes­sional musi­cians over their shared love of jazz music.

“You could see how impressed the members of the Harry James Orchestra were with our stu­dents and their level of playing,” said James Holleman, director of orchestras and choirs and chairman of the music department. 

The judges included Holleman, pro­fessor of history Paul Mareno, and college pres­ident Larry Arnn.

The Harry James Orchestra, directed by Fred Radke, was founded in the 1940s and was the first jazz band to perform with Frank Sinatra.

Even though Molly Buccola had not pre­vi­ously met vocalist Barbara Rosene of the Harry James Orchestra,  she said Rosene was sweet and offered to help her and give her pointers.

“I wasn’t really nervous, I love these pieces,” said senior vocalist Molly Buccola. 

The orchestra’s double bass player could be seen playing alongside the Hillsdale Big Band. 

“They have done work­shops in the past, and it’s fun to hear stories about per­forming with Frank Sinatra and Betty Grabel,” Holleman said. “He’s the real deal and it’s fun for our stu­dents to get a piece of that history, so this is a tremendous rela­tionship between Hillsdale College and director Fred Radke and the Harry James Orchestra.” 

The musi­cians played a variety of selec­tions of swing and jazz music, to the delight of the packed audience. 

“It was standing room only,” Buccola said. “There was so much energy in the room.”

The audience had approx­i­mately 200 people in atten­dance, and more came in late and stood behind the risers and on the sides of the rehearsal hall. Freshman Caris Fick­en­scher, though not a jazz musician herself, said she would love to see another per­for­mance like the Battle of the Bands. 

“They all had so much fun doing it, and my favorite part was seeing everyone have a lot of fun doing what they love,” Fick­en­scher said.

For the last song of the night, the bands stopped their battle and played together in one massive melody of jazz.

Even the directors got involved in the impro­vi­sa­tional sec­tions of the piece, trading solos back and forth. 

“Fred started taking it to a dif­ferent level of silliness,” Holleman said. “Chris McCourry totally responded with a mouth­piece solo and then a singing solo, and that was really unique. It wasn’t planned at all.” 

When it came time for judging, the bands were tied with a total of nineteen points each, courtesy of Holleman and Mareno, leaving Arnn with the deciding vote. Arnn announced that he could not choose a winner, and both teams would finish tied. 

“What a thrill for our stu­dents to share tunes,” Holleman said. “They held their own with big smiles on their faces.”