Columns 2003

Barrow High School Band makes a mighty sound

When I was in kindergarten, I was briefly in the kindergarten band. It consisted of tin horns, a few drums and some triangles.  I was given a triangle. Clearly the nuns had already figured out my spectacular lack of musical ability.  This was confirmed every time the band played and I once again showed I could not even hit the triangle with the little stick in time to the beat.

Up in Barrow, though, there is a mighty band, the Barrow High School Band, with talent and dedication at work on each instrument.  Last month, that band won first place at the Heritage Festival Music Competition in Orlando Florida. What’s even more amazing is that this band from a school of 400 students was forced to compete with schools containing up to 4000 students due to the lack of competitors in their school size category.  And they still took first place while also winning a Gold Award indicating a superior rating. Then, just to put that cherry on the sundae, they received the Adjudicators Award, which is given to groups that score over 90 out of 100. They scored 95 and were one of only three groups to earn that recognition.  This means they will play next year in Chicago at the Festival of Gold where winners from Heritage Festivals held all over the country go to compete against the best.

What’s most amazing to me about all this, aside from the fact that a small town like Barrow can consistently produce such talented musicians, is that the kids raise most of the money for this trip themselves.

It’s no secret that in most schools, all other activities take second place to sports when it comes to extracurricular funding. Barrow High School is no different in that regard.  Up till this year, when band parents confronted the school district and got it to up its financial support to almost 30% of what these kids need for the trip, the kids raised all but about 15% of the cost by working non stop from the day school began to the day it ended.

Maybe that’s what so impressive about this effort.  This kids aren’t being handed anything on a silver platter. They have to earn every trip through hard work and consistent dedication to both practice and fund raising. Band kids can be found everywhere during the school year raising money on any event being held. They show movies, hold dinners, conduct a Bandathon, sell raffles and refreshments at basketball games – you name it and these kids are there doing it. They also hit every business and corporation in town for support. This year, that support accounted for another 30% of the total.

I think that probably the dedication shown by these young people to the band is partly because they are getting nothing for free. When you have to work that hard to achieve a goal, that goal becomes much more meaningful to you than if someone just hands you a ticket and says have a good time.  These kids know what hard work is about and they are learning its rewards.  Too bad some of the athletes in our schools can’t learn the same lesson. It would help prepare them to be better adults.

Not that these kids are all work and no play. They also went to Disney World, Medieval Times, Universal Studios Theme Park, the Wet and Wild Water Park and Universal Islands of Adventure.  They even got to play at the Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden.  They got to meet kids from Canada, Wisconsin, California, Alabama, Missouri and Florida.

Perhaps most importantly, these kids got to spend their year working and studying with a teacher named Ronnie Stanford who is not only teaching them music, but is teaching them about focusing on goals, hanging in for the long haul, working as a team and learning how to be better people than they were before they walked into his class. That’s probably why they also won the Spirit of Orlando award for the group that best represents their community and state.

These kids went out to do their best for their teacher, their high school, their town and their state. They were very, very successful in showing just how fine Alaska’s young people are.

And to that one special young lady, whose mother put her in my arms when she was only three days old and who has owned my heart since then, may the beauty of the music you create always be part of your soul and your spirit.