High school band: from on geek to on fleek

Once thought of as the domain of dorks and geeks, high school marching band membership continues to gain in popularity.
Published November 18 2016


Times Correspondent

Never mind the high school star quarterback and head cheerleader destined to be crowned king and queen of the prom.

These days, some of the coolest kids on campus can be found playing a tuba or beating a snare drum on the football field during halftime.

Once considered the domain of dorks and geeks, students are now eager to be a part of their high school marching bands, according to Ted Hope, supervisor of secondary music for Hillsborough County schools.

"Bands are the 'in' thing now," said Hope who served as band director of Bloomingdale High School for 17 years before his appointment as music supervisor for the school district. "It's become very popular to join the band, especially at our larger high schools. Bands have become a social cliché onto themselves."

While membership in individual Hillsborough County high school marching bands has remained steady over the past 10 years (2,784 members in 2006 and 2,779 members in 2016), Hope said he has noticed a change in how band membership is perceived.

"I think there's a greater appreciation of these students," he said. "People realize that the geek stigma isn't accurate. Being a member of a marching band is a very physical activity. They're out there performing in 99-degree temperatures in full uniform while, in some cases, carrying heavy instruments."

The use of more contemporary music and choreography along with the opportunity to compete and perform around the country has also improved the cachet of band membership, said Michael Miller, director of bands at Newsome High School for four years.

"When I came to Newsome, we had 120 band members," Miller said. "Now we have 164. Playing more contemporary music appealing to larger audiences is one factor, but I think the reputation of our band program is a big draw as well."

Last year, the Newsome Wolfpack Marching Band was named American Regional Grand Champion during competition at the University of Delaware and has consistently earned superior ratings at the statewide Florida Bandmasters Association Music Performance Assessments.

Miller believes those honors contributed to this year's invitation to participate in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. This will be Newsome's first appearance in the nationally televised parade.

"It's an incredible opportunity," said Zack Hoening, 14, who plays percussion in the Newsome band. "Not just any band is accepted to perform in front of a million people."

While Newsome band members prepare to head to New York City, members of the Durant High School marching band are busy raising funds for their own once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The 112-member Cougar Pride Marching Band, led by Bruce Hermann, is invited to perform in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7.

"It's really exciting," said Durant band trumpet player Josh Green, 17. "It's definitely changed the way students view the marching band."

When it comes to extracurricular pursuits, Hillsborough County's marching band students are in good company.

Among celebrities who played in their high school marching bands, according to Music Times, an entertainment website, are actress Jennifer Garner, who played the saxophone; singer Gwen Stefani, a flute player; actors Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor, who favored the French horn; rapper Lil Wayne, who played cymbals; and rocker Steven Tyler, who honed his musical skills as a trumpet player in his school band.

"I think the image of marching bands has changed a lot over the years," said Newsome High School drum corps member John Garzon-Ferrer, 18. "Bands are really being promoted and put out there with television shows like Clash of the Corps hosted by Dewayne 'The Rock' Johnson on Fuse. It's really elevated the status of marching bands."

Now in his fourth year with the Newsome band, Garzon-Ferrer said being a band member has become the focal point of his high school social life.

"Everybody in the band loves being there, and we've all become very close," he said. "It's been a great high school experience."

Beyond the social aspects of band membership, Hope noted that participating in a high school band has academic advantages.

"It's been shown that band members score higher on standardized tests," he said.

According to the College Entrance Examination Board, students who participate in music perform 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the SAT test and 43 points higher in math.

And when it comes time to apply for colleges, Hope said band participation plays a big role.

"The work ethic, commitment and responsibility that students learn in band carries a lot of weight with colleges," he said.

"Colleges recognize that it takes a lot of work and commitment to be in a band," said Ryan Koons, a Newsome senior who serves as drum chairman. "It's definitely an experience I'd recommend."

Contact D'Ann Lawrence White at hillsnews@tampabay.com.