Low participation could mean end of solar sound marching band cnet data recovery

In its heyday, solar sound marching band had about 120 members marching in formation, impeccably hitting the notes while roll-stepping in unison.

"Last year we had 26 (kids). That was the smallest band we’ve ever had," said gary zwack, solar sound director. "It’s at critical mass right now."

The biggest challenge is just letting people know marching band is an option for students in grades 7-12 from across the region. Because once students or parent volunteers sign up, they’re hooked, zwack said.

Director gary zwack talks about the solar sound marching band thursday, march 15, at technical high school. (photo: jason wachter, jwachter@stcloudtimes.Com)

solar sound

Marching band teaches kids leadership, self-discipline, confidence, communication skills and, of course, helps them improve instrumentation.

Students also get an opportunity to travel. And most importantly, they have fun. So why the decline in numbers? Zwack attributes it to the increasing number of activities available to kids and kids’ decreasing awareness of marching band.

"I think part of what’s happened … Is we’ve lost all identity with the schools," zwack said. "There’s no ownership. There’s no home turf … The only time they’ll see these kids in uniform is if they have to go to a parade."

Solar sound marching band started in 1984 as the st.Solar sound cloud all city marching band. After st. Cloud school district cut funding for individual marching band programs in both high schools, local business leaders, individuals and the city contributed money for the start of a new group.

In 1999, the organization extended membership to seventh- and eighth-graders. Then in 2008, a junior summer marching band program called the blue jackets was created; now that group is known as solar sound junior marching band and is run through community education. The junior students participate in a week-long rehearsal period in june and then march in the st. Cloud and st. Joseph parades.

The band changed its name to solar sound marching band in 2015 to encompass all students involved in the program.Solar sound the program is open to anyone who does not have a comparable marching program at their school. It includes students from technical, apollo and cathedral high schools, as well as students from north and south junior highs, kennedy community school and st. John’s preparatory school. Students from as far away as brainerd have joined the band.

The open enrollment policy has worked against the band on the competition front. Marching band classes are based on enrollment size, and because solar sound draws from a number of schools, it is often competing in the largest class — even with only two dozen band members.

In recent years, minnesota marching bands have veered away from traditional marching and moved toward performing field shows in front of the judges’ stand.Marching band

"At one point some band stopped and they turned towards the judges’ stand and they blew a big note so they got a higher score so somebody else said, ‘well, we could do a pirouette, maybe a lunge and go shake somebody’s hand’ and it just kind of progressed to where now they are doing a field show on the street," zwack said.

"You want the parade to keep moving," said zwack, who helps organize the st. Cloud granite city days parade. "It’s a constant battle between what is going to be successful competitively — what are judges looking for — and what do parade organizers want."

Even though solar sound is small, it often outperforms larger bands on music performance scores.Solar sound they also don’t shy away from difficult scores; this year the band is playing music from "game of thrones" and "doctor who."

Coleman played the flute in solar sound junior and decided to join solar sound because she enjoyed finding a new group of friends from other schools.

Jacob starren, a junior at tech, plays percussion in the band. He said his favorite part of the season is the week-long spat camp in june where students take over the elementary school in pierz. (A spat is the traditional marching shoe covering.)

"At spat camp, you make so many friends," starren said. "We play games and there’s really good food there.Zwack said you practice for hours on end, but after a while it gets fun because as you keep practicing, you get better and better so you can play the music with different styles."

"I remember the feelings of belonging, camaraderie, friendship and — I don’t want to say adventure, that’s a little too grandiose — but we got to travel. For a small-town girl, whose parents never got to go anywhere, we went to winnipeg, we went to colorado," she said. "For these guys it’s fun because it’s not their school group, it’s their band group. It’s that tight-knit family feeling that they created."

Starren said some of the marching band’s board members no longer have students in the band, but continue to volunteer because of the opportunities the band provides to students.Marching band

"Walking along as a chaperone, I really get to see the crowd reaction to the band. That’s the best part," she said. "The little kids get excited about the drums. You can see them holding their chest because they can feel the drums. The parents are asking, ‘where are you from?’ and just telling them about our band. That feedback makes me want to support the organization because it’s valued."

The organization is funded mostly through pull tabs at D.B. Searle’s, ducks bar and grill and legends bar and grill in st. Cloud, as well as bingo at ducks.

The charitable gambling revenue subsidizes the students’ costs. Zwack said it costs about $1,200 per student to cover uniform, transportation and staff costs.Solar sound

This year, the cost to join is $350, which is down from $475 last year. It includes the cost of transportation and a week-long camp with food and lodging.

There are also multiple fundraising opportunities for students to bring down the cost of joining, including incentives such as a refer-a-friend discount and early bird discount if a student registers by march 31.

"There’s no special number. We need to be bigger," he said. "Right now, it’s almost unfair to individuals to have that much responsibility if something happens. You twist an ankle or have a family emergency — whatever it might be — it can really challenge the opportunity for everybody."

Solar sound

Zwack sees an opportunity to grow by reaching out to new groups of students and possibly moving away from the traditional marching band style. In other regions of the country, other forms of bands — such as mariachi bands, swing groups or color guards — are popular, he said.