Jacob Weiss, the drum major for the Bainbridge High School Marching Band, says with characteristic confidence, “I challenge anybody to have more fun than the marching band has on their way to a competition.” After speaking with Jacob and numerous people associated with all the band programs at the high school, I bet no one could meet his challenge.
I’ll add one of my own: I challenge anyone to find a more enthusiastic and positive group of people than the folks involved in the school bands. You get to see the results of that enthusiasm tomorrow night (October 25) at their first concert of the year. But first, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the band program at BHS.
- Jazz Band: Usually upperclassmen. An elite band.
- Concert Band: Usually freshmen.
- Symphonic Band: Sophomores and juniors.
- Wind Symphony: Elite concert band.
- Percussion Ensemble: Represented by all four classes. They play percussion for each of the three main band groups (Concert, Symphonic, and Wind Symphony).
- Marching Band: Comprised of members of the other bands.
- Color Guard: Includes the Winter Guard. This group is required to accompany the marching band in competition. They are the flag, sabre, and rifle bearers. They sometimes perform on their own in competition.
More than 130 students participate in these music programs, practicing during and after school, meeting in the weeks before school starts in the fall, and participating in competitions.
Awards in 2010-2011
The BHS Marching Band Drum Majors took first place in the 2010 Sumner Field Show Marching Band Competition.
The BHS Marching Band won first place in the music category and second place overall in the 2010 Veterans Day Parade Competition.
The BHS Marching Band ended up second in the music category and fifth overall (out of 13 teams) in the Veterans Day Field Show Marching Band Competition.
The Wind Symphony earned Superior ratings in all categories. The Concert Band—consisting of all freshmen—and the Symphonic Band both earned an overall grade of Excellent at the Olympic Music Educator’s Association (OMEA) Large Group Band Festival in Bremerton.
Sixteen band students from Bainbridge High School competed at the 2011 State Solo/Ensemble Competition held at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Two BHS quintets won an Excellent rating, one soloist won an Excellent rating, and three soloists won a Superior rating.
The Concert and Jazz bands won first place in their division at the 2011 Music in the Parks Festival Competition in Anaheim, California. Sophomore Zack Badzik, won Most Outstanding Soloist for the entire competition. Out of 15 schools, BHS took home the “Esprit de Corps” award, the highest honor of the competition for their performances on and off the stage during competition day.
BHS sophomore Sam Bishoff, playing the Tenor Saxaphone, was selected to play in the Washington All-State Band.
The Sakai Funnel
One of the mains secrets to the success of the BHS band program lies, from all accounts, in its origins at Sakai Intermediate School under the direction of Ralph Burton, who now teaches at Woodward Middle School and is the Sakai Band director. The music program at Sakai is part of the school curriculum. Approximately three hundred students in each of grades 5 and 6 receive some form of music instruction as part of the school day. More than 100 students in each of the two grades, one-third of the school population, are in the band program, which means that their music instruction consist of practicing for and playing in the fifth and sixth grade bands.
Kristen Brelsford, the President of the Bainbridge High School Band Boosters, told me about the challenge the Band program faced last year when, in an effort to deal with financial concerns, the School District briefly considered moving the Sakai music directors over to Woodward and turning the music program into an elective before-school program. Brelsford and other parents raised a strong opposition to the move, largely because it would mean a massive decrease in the numbers of students participating in the Sakai band program. And that, explained Brelsford, would mean the gradual narrowing of the BHS program, with fewer students coming into the high school prepared to play and perform to the standards the school achieves now.
Peggy Musselwhite, the BHS Band Booster in charge of Public Relations for the bands, told me that the Sakai band program is the largest intermediate school band group in Washington state.
Lillian Gregorio Garcia
Another reason for the bands’ success is Lillian Garcia, the Director of Bands at BHS. Lee told me that Garcia is “media shy,” but she also described her as a ball of energy. After speaking with Garcia by phone, I would agree about her level of energy.
She would have to have that kind of energy to do what she does. Garcia works with all the bands throughout the school day starting with jazz band at 0 period and ending with marching band after school two days a week. But even while I was talking with her during her free period, I could hear her band members congregating in her office, which they do at the end of the day and in between classes. Garcia told me they like to hang out there, sharing music with her and talking. And then there are the away performances of the marching band. Garcia rides the bus with the kids, and describes the rides as rowdy, with the kids all often belting out songs together. She describes the singing as “Sometimes fun and sometimes not fun,” the latter being especially true on late night bus rides home.
Garcia came to BHS four years ago after teaching in middle schools in Virginia. When her husband was relocated by the Navy to Everett, Garcia searched for a job and landed the one at BHS. That was before she knew anything about the geography of the place, she explained. So her husband can get to work in Everett each day and she can get to Bainbridge, they live in the midway point, which is Seattle. That means she has to add a commute into her schedule.
Garcia told me that running the band program at BHS is not so different from her music teaching experience in Virginia except that the “kids are bigger and have a bigger vocabulary.” The bands sounded so good to her when she first arrived that she had to teach herself to challenge the kids more and raise the level of expectation for their performances.
In what is apparently her characteristically self-deprecating way, Garcia played down her own role in the band’s success and emphasized learning above award winning. She said the best part of the competitions are getting the kids away to see other bands and attend clinics. The conversation that happens afterward, in which she and the students critique the other bands, is key to learning. “The awards are nice,” she said, “but I couldn’t care less about the competitions. For me it’s about getting the kids to perform in public and learn from that.” She added, “I’m always proud of the kids.”
In reaction to school budget reductions to the band program, the BHS Band Boosters are working hard to secure the fund needed to sustain critical elements of the BHS Bband program including purchasing sheet music, providing scholarships, repairing and replacing instruments, paying entry fees and bus transportation for competitions, and providing props for the Color Guard.
Brelsford told me that Donna Burnside, the Boosters ways and means coordinator, has come up with some innovative ideas for helping the group raise its 2011-2012 goal of $12,000 for the bands. By sending out a sponsorship letter to the business community, the Boosters have been able to secure gift certificates, financial support, and in-kind donations. Sponsors will be announced at tomorrow night’s concert.
A rummage sale is planned for the spring. Car washes and a McTakeover (in which band members run the registers at McDonald’s) are also planned. A raffle and a bake sale will be held at the concert.
One of the most exciting fundraising ideas came from Ramesh Kumar, the owner of Spice Route Restaurant, in response to Burnside’s letter. He offered to donate to the band 50 percent of his proceeds on October 23. Brelsford told me that the event was very well attended. Kumar is planning a second dine-out-for-the-band day on November 10.
The Fall Concert
Tomorrow night’s concert (October 25), at the Commons at the High School, begins at 6:30. Each band will perform three to four pieces. The bands select the pieces themselves after Garcia shares music with them that is available in the library. Together they look for pieces that the kids take to right away when playing them and that they respond to. Garcia says, “There’s no point in my forcing the kids to do anything.”
All four bands will perform, starting with the Jazz Band, which will be followed by a brief break and costume change for Garcia, who will then don a long formal gown to begin the symphonic portion of the program.
The common thread throughout my conversations with the Band community was enthusiasm. Musselwhite sent me loads of photos and information about the band. She and Brelsford, Lee, and Garcia took chunks out of their day to speak with me. Weiss wrote me thoughtful and well-crafted answers to my questions. And each one of them communicated a deep sense of community, a love for and commitment to what they are doing, and an unfailing positive energy.
Breslford who recently assumed the presidency of the Boosters, said, “I’m really excited about the group of people we have who are leading this charge for recognition of what the students are doing and building support for them outside the band community.”
True to his role as drum major, perhaps Weiss captured the BHS Band spirit the best: “ The best part about being the drum major of the BHS band is that I get to represent all of them. I get the credit for the hard work that my band does. BHS is the only band that I know of that cheers just as loud for first place as we do for last, and I’m proud to represent them.”
Here’s a preview of the concert: The Symphonic Band playing at the Olympic Music Educators Association Large Group Band Festival in March of this year.
All photos courtesy of BHS Band Boosters.