For all the trophies and awards Marian Catholic High School Band Director Greg Bimm has brought to the Chicago Heights campus, he saw his most important role as developing the individual student.
Bimm has ended his 46-year career, having won seven Bands of America (BOA) Grand National Championships and 42 state titles in class. Marian Catholic has earned first place in its class at the Illinois State Marching Band Championships every year since 1980, a 42-year winning streak that is unprecedented in any arena.
Bimm will continue to support the band as a consultant and will join the Marian advancement office.
Working at a private, Catholic high school, Bimm had limited resources and fewer staff than many of the public schools the Marian Band regularly competed against. He had an assistant director, a percussion section director and a color guard director. Other schools could have as many as 25 staff working with the band. But Bimm built leadership and enthusiasm among the band members, their parents and within the community.
“The first thing we focus on every year is being good people. Very specifically, about being responsible for ourselves and responsible for helping others,” he said. “The central thing more than winning trophies is you have to start with being good people. And when the students are starting by being good people and being responsible, success follows that pretty often. It is a thing that we talk about, sharing that wisdom.”
He was always cognizant of the balance students needed to have juggling school work and often with a job. He limited practices to one or two nights in June and July before gearing up the practice schedule two weeks before school started.He believed too much time at practice and he’d turn kids off, too little time and the band wouldn’t make the competitive cut.
“We’ve been able to find the sweet spot. We can still be really good and we can be in balance with life,” he said. Bimm also is recognized as a band director who developed a special leadership style within the program.
He asked his seniors “to teach our younger students, that’s the basis of our leadership program… Especially in the fall when groups work together, the seniors are teaching the freshmen and sophomores and so it’s like having a much larger staff because we’re using the students.” Bimm saw students grow in that process “because they’re actively learning to teach” as they improve on their own musical abilities.
He was willing to change things up when a better musical selection came to him.
“We have to choose music that’s going to build a successful competitive program, be a pleasing production and the music has to be right for the talents that we have, and it has to be music that is going to be very valuable as a teaching tool since we’re using it in the fall,” Bimm explained.
Bimm got his love of bands as a fifth grade trumpeter growing up in the LaSalle-Peru area. He immediately knew being a band director is what he wanted to do. He was a member of his high school marching band and earned a degree in music education from Illinois State University. His first job was in a small farming community teaching music for fifth grade through high school.
He got an offer to do graduate work at Western Illinois University earning a master’s degree in music education and conducting. While there, a friend called him about the job opening for a band director. As they say, the rest is 46 years of history at Marian Catholic.
Bimm didn’t want any great send-off, but alumni had other ideas. They secretly organized a celebratory party for him.
At the end of the band’s spring concert, as Bimm was saying good night to the audience, the brass entered from one door and the woodwinds from the other. The alumni performed “Almighty God” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.” It’s a piece Bimm has used as the band’s warm-up selection.
He took photos with about 130 alumni and accepted their congratulations and thanks. One had come in from Los Angeles, and another is a French horn player with the U.S. Marine Corps Band in Washington, D.C., which performs at White House events.
“That’s the special part,” Bimm said. “We have stacks and stacks of trophies on top of instrument shelves (in the band room). They all represent a successful performance at some point. The success is the kids and the experiences they had while they’ve been here.
“I’ve been the one whose been blessed.”