The clan of band spans time, place

Colin Ramsay, a 2009 MIHS grad and musician, now attends the Berkelee School of Music in Boston. - Chad Coleman/Staff Photo
Colin Ramsay, a 2009 MIHS grad and musician, now attends the Berkelee School of Music in Boston.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Staff Photo

Most kids spend spring break relaxing at home or on vacation somewhere warm with the family. The more philanthropically inclined may spend it on a service trip, whether to Mexico or Vietnam, as is the case with many Mercer Island high schoolers. Given these typical spring break activities, it’s not surprising that during my spring break, junior year, I found myself staring up a long set of stairs to the top of the Great Wall of China, with a case holding an entire drum set by my side. Yes, I did carry that drum set up the Great Wall, and yes, it was miserable, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. After all, I was spending 10 days touring China with the MIHS wind ensemble and jazz band, and how can you argue with that?

In an economy that has seen high school band programs around the country downsized and often eliminated completely, it’s rare to see a school and a community embrace a program so fully as they have with the MIHS band program. While most are struggling to survive, the MIHS band program boasts over 300 members, and in the middle of a recession recently completed a monumental fundraising effort to purchase over $100,000 worth of new marching band uniforms. In the graduating class of 2009, at least 10 people are pursuing degrees in music, myself included, and many more continue their musical involvement outside of school.

Oftentimes I wonder if I’d be where I am now, dual majoring in drum set performance and music business at Berklee College of Music, without the MIHS band program. Quite simply put, no. As a kid with a desire to bang on things, the band program took me in and helped me fully realize my passion. It was with the marching band that as a scrawny, 114-pound freshman I marched six and a half miles through torrential downpour in the Rose Parade, and it was with the jazz and wind ensembles that I somehow got roped into carrying that drum set up the Great Wall of China. Sprinkle in a few trips to eastern Washington and you’ve got a college-bound student who’d rather do nothing else than play music for a living.

The MIHS band program, however, is more than an opportunity to travel the world. It’s a family. A family with three ‘semi-dysfunctional’ band director parents (ABC Family are you reading this?): Parker Bixby, Ryan Lane and Dave Bentley. Many friendships have been born out of the band program, and the directors became pivotal mentors in my life (and many, many others) who I could always turn to for advice, musically or otherwise. The band room was my second home, and by my senior year in high school, I was spending at least three hours a day there between percussion ensemble, wind ensemble and jazz band.

Fittingly enough, it was at Parker Bixby’s house during the senior band barbecue, the culmination of my high school band career, that an idea was born. After seeing each other every day for years, one of my bands, ‘Strictly Prohibited When Thunderstorm,’ was soon to be scattered across the country. As a way for us to play together one last time, we created ‘Strictlyfest.’ As it turns out, all of us in the band are products of the MIHS band program, and so it wasn’t long before Strictlyfest evolved into an all-day free music festival to benefit the program that was primarily responsible for our love of music. To our surprise, over 300 people turned up in August 2009 for our first ever Strictlyfest.

After the success of our first year, we’re back again to raise money for the MIHS band program and their trip to London over the 2010 winter break. Please join us between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 15, at Mercerdale Park for a day of music and fun. You can check out the Mercer Island Farmers Market right next door. We’ll be selling shirts, band merchandise and raffle tickets, and holding a silent auction with all the proceeds going directly to the band program. Come enjoy Strictlyfest and help support a band program that has changed thousands of lives.

We hope to see you there.

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