High school band hosts evening of pop hits, big band dance

The South Whidbey High School band will host an evening of song and dance in a fundraising event to repair and replace instruments.

The Pops Concert and Big Band Dance will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, May 22 at the high school auditorium. Afterward, the evening will continue in the New Commons for a big band dance led by instructor Walter Dill.

Chris Harshman, band teacher at South Whidbey High School and Langley Middle School, said several older pieces are beyond repair, and the department is long overdue in replacing them.

“I’m just hoping we can take care of the essential pieces,” he said.

He explained that there are certain specific instruments that must be replaced for pep band, wind ensemble and jazz band.

In recent years, each of the groups have racked up an assortment of awards at prestigious festivals and competitions including the Monterey Jazz Festival, Essentially Ellington and Canadian National Band Contest.

Harshman, who has taught at the high school for 10 years, said he credits much of their success to the support of the community and diligence of his pupils.

“We have a lot of support from parents and community and our students are willing to work hard and do the extra work before school,” said Harshman. “We have a great work ethic. The students here really enjoy playing challenging music.”

“They’ve learned that applying themselves will result in a positive outcome,” he said, adding that consistency and time management are additional lessons gleaned from band participation.

Harshman noted that many of the students have been playing together for several years.

“To find something new that they can apply themselves to, an even greater challenge, is something that is very rewarding for them,” he said. “Maybe it’s because they’re so familiar with each other, they can go deeper.”

Participation in music has also positively impacted the students in other facets of their lives, according to Mara Bush, a sophomore.

Bush began playing piano at age 5 and took up band in fifth grade. She currently plays alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet and piano.Bush noted that Harshman has not only been an excellent band teacher, but a supportive figure for her and other students throughout their scholastic careers.

“He’s been a really important teacher to me since fifth grade and he’s taught me a lot more than just how to play the sax,” Bush said. “He has a way of getting through to you when no one else can.”

Harshman teaches beginning band to earlier grades as well as high school band classes, lending some continuity for him and the students. Over the past five to six years, Harshman said, the music department has experienced downsizing and budget reductions. They’ve adjusted however, and Harshman said they have established a solid schedule between middle school and high school.

Financially, the transition has been a bit more difficult, Harshman said.

“I’ve lost my budget. My budget is half of what it was six years ago.”

About 15 instruments are currently in need of repair or replacement. Harshman said he and the students are looking forward to raising funds as well as playing music to enjoy.

“This is our favorite type of fundraiser where we’re able to play our music and the community can come and dance,” Harshman said.

During the Pops Concert, the band will play movie themes. For the Big Band Dance, they’ll perform pieces by Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

Tickets cost $10 per person and $25 per family. There will also be a silent auction which will end at 8:30 p.m.