GCU band helps high school musicians get in sync
Story by Ashlee Larrison
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
For many students, school band programs are more than just hobbies. They’re something much more — a community.
To increase high school students’ interest in pursuing band after graduating and to expand Grand Canyon University’s band program, GCU Band Director Paul Koch created Band in the Stands, which welcomes high school bands to learn from and perform alongside the Thundering Heard Pep Band.
The program allows high school students to get the full GCU band experience, from touring the campus to performing live in the stands of a GCU basketball game.
“We call it Band in the Stands because their band is actually coming into the stands with the Pep Band performing at the game.” Koch said.
Band students from King’s Way Christian Schools in Vancouver, Wash., recently traveled to Phoenix to participate in the program, and King’s Way Band Instructor Marge Swearer said it was exciting for both students and their parents.
“This is a uniquely wonderful experience. … This is the kind of experience I hoped my kids would have because it has them excited about playing in band whether they’re a music major or not,” Swearer said. “It’s kids that are about to start that looking process, and so this is good for the parents regardless of where they’re looking because it was good for them to see how the whole day went.”
The students started their day with an official tour of the campus, eventually leading to a band rehearsal with clarinet professor Tim Haas and tuba professor Kevin Bock. They also listened to the wind ensemble and jazz band and got to connect with those students, then were invited to join the Thundering Heard on its march across campus to GCU Arena, where they would play alongside at the GCU vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley basketball game.
“The students I’ve met, they’re an interesting group,” Thundering Heard member Nathan Swift said. “They were kind of shy at first, but, I mean, who’s not intimidated as soon as they meet a new group? But once they were introduced they were really accepting of what we had to teach them — they were just really inviting. It was cool. It was a good connection right off the bat.”
Another Thundering Heard member, Madison Kearney, said the most beneficial aspect is the chance for high school students to see what a college band is all about: “It’s something I would have wanted to do in high school and be a part of, and it’s cool to just get a little taste of that.”
It also helps the Thundering Heard keep growing. “The program has definitely gotten a lot better in my time here. I can see us getting bigger and better, honestly,” said Andrew Lopez, a member of both the band and GCU student leadership. “It will be more fun, and we can reach more students.”
Lopez hopes that as the program grows, students who benefit from Band in the Stands will want to serve as mentors someday. If the reaction of King’s Way junior Michael Peck is any indication, that already is happening.
“We got a lot of really helpful tips from the band director — that’s going to really help when we get back home for our concert,” he said, adding that he “heard good things from mostly everyone” in the King’s Way group.
“Your music staff is very energetic and engaging, which is always an awesome asset when you’re trying to draw high school kids to a program,” she said. “They’re in charge of the program but very in tune with how kids are and how to engage kids in a positive way, and I’ve just appreciated it so much.”
Koch sees Band in the Stands as a way to usher in a new era of musicians.
“Our hope is that either, A, they will continue on with college band wherever they end up going to college, and obviously, B, our goal is hopefully they come here and perform with us and our band and continue with their education no matter what they are getting their degree in,” he said.
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or firstname.lastname@example.org