South Kitsap High School band prepping for Pearl Harbor

The trophy case rests in South Kitsap High School’s band room, cluttered with accolades for performances from California to New York.

But even for band director Gary Grams, the Wolves’ latest opportunity feels a little different.

Band members are making final preparations before they perform Dec. 7 in the 70th Anniversary Pearl Harbor Attack Commemoration.

“We’re excited and proud to be able to go — to represent our community in the military,” Grams said. “It’s a real honor.”

South is the only band from Washington state that will perform in Hawaii. Grams said that was a factor — in addition to the presence of nearby Naval Base Kitsap — when they accepted an offer last November from the American Musical Salute to the event. The invitation came at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year.

“We decided that it was just an opportunity we just couldn’t pass up,” Grams said.

One complication was that the Wolves just performed at the 2010 Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Grams said he prefers to take major trips every three years because it ensures each class of students has the same opportunity.

“Of course, I had to talk with all of the district officials,” Grams said. “We sat down and had a long discussion about it because it was just right after the Rose Bowl.”

Senior Leah Bright, who plays the flute, is one of the members of the band who will make the trip after also performing in the Rose Bowl Parade.

“It’s a great opportunity from a historical standpoint and with our ties to the military,” she said. “The Rose Bowl happens every year. You don’t have a 39th or 42nd annual (Pearl Harbor) celebration. There aren’t a whole lot of survivors left.”

South Kitsap School District, which had to close nearly a $7 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 school year, was not in position to offer assistance. And with many businesses struggling, Grams knew the band would be hard-pressed to find donations.

“We told parents that we’re going to do our best,” said Grams, adding that the band raised more money through fundraising this time than during their Rose Bowl trip. “We’ve had a few kids that have come up and said, ‘My family is not in position to do it.’ From the beginning, we made this trip optional.”

South’s band, which now encompasses freshmen throughout the district, will take 121 of 143 members. Grams said most of the students who are not coming are freshmen.

For the Dec. 4-9 trip, Grams said enough has been raised to offset $122 per student for the trip in addition to paying baggage fees on the flight back to Seattle. He said each student will be responsible for the rest of the $1,306 individual cost, which includes entertainment, lodging, meals and transportation.

For comparison, Grams said the Rose Bowl trip cost each of the 109 students $1,600.

Activities were so condensed during that performance that Grams said band members often were able to sleep for just a few hours. In Hawaii, he anticipates the Wolves will have more of an opportunity to roam. In addition to the main performance and another at the USS Missouri, Grams has stops set up at several tourist locations, including the Dole Plantation and Polynesian Culture Center.

“What a great educational opportunity for the kids,” Grams said.

Junior Madeleine Folkerts, who plays the French horn, agreed.

“We’re taking U.S. History this year,” she said. “I have a feeling when we get to that part in the book — it’s going to take another level of understanding. It’s going to be a lot different when we actually are there.”

The band plans to perform a slow, soulful version of “America the Beautiful‚” and a selection of Elvis music, including “Burning Love‚” and “C.C. Rider.”

“We felt Elvis was applicable to the genre to some extent,” Grams said.

Those will be played at the USS Missouri, which was the site of the ceremony officially ending World War II, and also was docked in Bremerton from 1954-84 and again from 1992-98. The state of Hawaii later was awarded the vessel after a protracted fight.

South’s proximity to Naval Base Kitsap and the areas ties to the “Mighty Mo” helped it secure a place in the performances at Pearl Harbor, but Grams said the band’s résumé also was a significant factor.

South has performed in Seattle’s Macy’s Holiday Parade, Wenatchee’s Apple Blossom Parade, Bremerton’s Armed Forces Parade and Husky Band Day the last several years. In April 2007, the band traveled to the Heritage Festival in Orlando, Fla. South’s wind ensemble earned second place in that event.

That was Grams’ vision when he was hired in 2002 at South from Shepherd High School in Montana, which had 75 band members in the 250-member student body. At the time, he was the school’s third band director in four years and had just 48 members.

Grams, who played the trombone, baritone and tuba in high school and performed at the 1991 Tournament of Roses Parade as a member of the Wyoming High School All-State Centennial Marching Band, said he wanted to build one of the “high-quality, high-caliber bands” to perform at major events.

Bright said the culmination of that has inspired her to pursue a music-related major next year at Western Washington University. With more than half of a school year remaining after the performance, she also is intrigued about how the band will look after it returns.

“I’m really excited to see how we’re different when we come back,” Bright said. “It’s going to be a really amazing bonding experience.”

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