They’ve got their marching orders.
The Pasco High Band is set to march, and perform, on the biggest stage ever for the program, now in its 80th year, at Pasco County’s oldest high school.
The Pirates will travel to Washington D.C., after being honorably invited to be in the annual 2023 American Veterans Center National Memorial Day Parade, which will also air on television nationwide the weekend of June 4.
Being selected to take part in the parade is the highest honor the school’s band program has ever received, according to Kyle Spence, the band director. It’s also the biggest and longest trip the program has ever taken.
“This is really big for us — for this program because, I think, (the band’s) last big trip was 2004 and to Atlanta,” said Spence, now in his fourth year as band director at Pasco High. “To go (to D.C) for the parade, for Memorial Day, that’s a big deal. In our county, as a smaller high school band, it’s a huge accomplishment.
“We’re all pumped for it — even for me, this is a big deal.”
Spence, a Land O’ Lakes High grad and former Gators band member, admits he never had a trip like his while playing for his alma mater, adding, “The furthest I ever went was Disney (World).”
However, Spence says he’s also “terrified — but in a good way,” as he embarks upon the trip, accompanied by chaperones, 84 musicians and members of the color guard.
The performers will take part in the parade and also in a “Concert on the Lawn” performance, where the band will play in front of one of the many memorials scattered throughout the District of Columbia.
“This is my first job out of college (USF), and the program was not in the best of place when I took over, in my opinion,” Spence said. “We worked hard and this accomplishment, as well as a few over the past couple of years, shows how far we’ve come.”
When Spence took over, he said there were between 40 and 45 band members and the program lacked direction. It took some overhauling, but over time, the Pirates’ improvements became evident.
It placed third at the Tarpon Springs Outdoor Marching Festival, third at the Wiregrass Ranch Marching Festival and received a Superior Rating at the District Marching Band Florida Bandmasters Association assessment. It also placed 12th in state at the Florida Marching Band Competition (FMBC) championships.
For two years in a row, Spence says, the program has received straight superior ratings, the highest rating possible. Those are the reasons U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis nominated the band to the parade.
The Pirates will be Florida’s lone representative.
“This band was started in 1943,” Spence said. “In that time, eight of the plaques earned by the program are just in my four years. We earned straight superior awards for the first time in program history.
“The trip shows our improvement,” the band director added. “In the first two years, we only graduated a handful of seniors. Then last year, we graduated 14 and this year (there are) 17 seniors graduating.
“Clearly, we’re doing something right.”
One of those things was to lean into the parade’s patriotic theme. This school year, one of the band’s performances is “Heroes,” which honors the military, law enforcement, first responders, health care frontline workers, and teachers.
The band also worked hard to raise the more than $100,000 to cover expenses to get the ensemble to Washington D.C. The band raised $50,000 through fundraisers; the rest came from donations from family and friends.
To earn money for the trip, the band ran the parking at the Renaissance Festival in Dade City for the seven weekends it was in town. The band also sold chocolates and ran parking at Pirate football games.
“It’s exciting they picked us because we’re a small program, but we’re also a strong program, too,” said Betily Garrett, a senior flute and piccolo player. “We have a lot of sound for such a small, but mighty band — and the patriotic pieces can be difficult, in that they’re older and everyone knows them, but there’s pressure to do them perfectly, especially on this stage.”
Spence said the band will perform patriotic pieces such as “Washington Post” by John Philip Sousa, as well as “My Country, Tis of Thee” and “America The Beautiful.”
And the band has embraced the long march — one that has taken all school year and will end up at the Nation’s Capital.
“From last year to this year, we’ve taken ourselves a step further with our playing ability, which has vastly improved because Mr. Spence has done a wonderful job with us,” said Conway Theel, a sophomore percussionist. “(We’re a band program) that just (went) from, ‘Oh, it’s just Pasco High School’ and its being an ‘eh’ music program to being the superior band program we are now — we know we earned it.”
“I love performing. I love marching — I’m definitely not nervous,” she added. “I’m really excited to perform and show the nation how good our band is now.
“That is, to toot our own horns — literally!”
American Veterans Center National Memorial Day Parade
Details: The 2023 National Memorial Day Parade television special will premiere the weekend of June 4 – nationwide on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW stations, and to our military personnel worldwide on American Forces Network. The National Memorial Day Parade runs down Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 17th streets.
For information, visit tinyurl.com/35xm5sr4. For more about the Pasco High band, visit PHS.pasco.k12.fl.us/classes.
Published May 24, 2023