Banding Together Toward Hurricane Recovery

Stories of marching bands devastated by Hurricane Harvey.
Marching bands devastated by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma get help from other music organizations around the country.

In August 2017 Hurricane Harvey tore the Rockport-Fulton (Texas) community to shreds. It obliterated buildings and rendered others uninhabitable. It displaced families, forcing some to split up and find places to stay among friends and family. Hurricane Harvey even closed the entire Aransas County Independent School District for weeks.

“Eight weeks after the storm hit, debris is being picked up—more than 900,000 cubic yards so far, and they aren’t quite halfway done,” says Shawn Carruth, secretary of the Rockport-Fulton Fightin’ Pirate Band boosters and a parent of two children in the band program.

Determined to Rebuild

Roxbury High School band in Succasunna, New JerseyNearly 1,800 miles away from Rockport-Fulton on an early autumn night, 10 New Jersey marching bands gathered for the annual Roxbury Marching Band Classic. While every year, they aim to entertain the crowd, this year they also worked to raise funds to assist Rockport-Fulton in getting its band program back on track.

“We often speak of the Roxbury band family; I know that all of the teachers, parents, and students couldn’t imagine having that taken away from us and our community so suddenly,” says Jeffrey Conrad, director of bands at Roxbury High School in Succasunna, New Jersey. “We know what our program means to all of the stakeholders and know that the same is true for programs all over the country. We simply wanted to do something to help the Rockport community and band program take a step toward rebuilding.”

The Roxbury Classic raised $1,543. Subsequently the bands raised additional funds, bringing the grand total to $1,800.

Carruth calls the outpouring of assistance for the Rockport-Fulton community overwhelming and humbling. “When you realize people who you have no personal relationship with are coming forward and providing help not just for our town but also for our band program, it is truly amazing,” Carruth says. “The directors, kids, and band boosters alike have all been just stunned by the generosity of others to help us get our band program back up and running again.”

Roxbury students felt the need to raise funds for Rockport-Fulton when a former band parent reposted an article detailing the band’s situation on social media. To organize the fundraising efforts, co-chairs of the Roxbury Classic reached out to those bands slated to march in the event and implored them to spread the word among their band communities. Roxbury’s band parents pulled the fundraising plan together in just a little more than two weeks.

On the night of the event, students and parents set out collection jars at several locations. In addition, several of the competing schools’ band parent organizations made donations. Because Roxbury parents were so active on social media, some donations were mailed from a wide variety of states. The Roxbury High School Band Parents Association also made a donation. “I cannot express my gratitude toward not only the Roxbury community but also to all those who donated on that day,” Conrad says.

The Roxbury Band Program enjoys a long tradition of helping those in need. “I believe every time we run an event or make a donation, we help our students move down the path of true citizenship,” Conrad says. “It is my sincere hope that by participating in this fundraiser, my students will feel empowered by the knowledge that kindness and generosity, no matter the scale, can change people’s lives for the better.”

By mid-October the Rockport-Fulton marching band was polishing its marching show, hosting its first home football game, and poised to compete in its first University Interscholastic League marching competition since the hurricane. “Losing three weeks’ worth of rehearsal time in the middle of the season and then having limited rehearsal time caused by the sharing of facilities will be tough,” Carruth says.

Poignantly Rockport-Fulton’s show, which was chosen back in May, is titled “The Determined.” “We had no idea then that it would become our mantra,” Carruth says.

Learn more about Music Rising.Many Drops in the Bucket

Like Rockport-Fulton High School, Kingwood (Texas) High School near Houston was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. Unlike Rockport-Fulton, however, Kingwood will not open its doors until March 19. The entire first and second floor of the school had to be deconstructed and all electrical and communication boxes and mechanical systems replaced. Crews used jackhammers to remove refrigeration units and replaced all air-conditioning units and computer and communication systems.

About 60 of Kingwood’s instruments got wet and were sent out for repair. All instrument cases have been replaced.

In addition to the loss of instruments, Kingwood’s music library took a huge hit. “We lost, I believe, about 700 titles in our awesome library,” Balch says. “We lost method books. We also lost all of our solo/ensemble library. I have been at Kingwood for 13 years, and we had accumulated many library items. This was a major loss.”

All told Balch is looking at a price tag of a half million dollars to get his band program back to where it was before Hurricane Harvey.

To help Kingwood meet this half million nut, Warren Township High School together with Woodland Middle School and Viking School, all in Gurnee, Illinois, dedicated its annual “Fill the Drum” marching event to the cause.

“It began back in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina when audience members were encouraged to literally fill an old bass drum with donations to the Red Cross Hurricane Relief as they entered the gates,” says Steven Boswell, 7th and 8th grade band director at Viking. “Each year the band directors at the high school and participating middle schools decide on a different worthy cause to donate to. In the past we have donated to the Red Cross, various cancer societies, the Iowa Flood Relief Fund, the Warren Food Pantry, and animal shelters.”

This year the event raised more than $6,000 for Kingwood High School. “We are obviously very pleased with the efforts,” Boswell says. “Whether it’s in our own schools, across town, across the state, or across the country, band is one huge family,” he says.

Projects like Fill the Drum and other types of volunteer efforts teach students the value of putting others first. “They realize that this money could be used for our local instrumental music programs, but that there are others in greater need everywhere,” says Christopher Jenkins, director of bands at Warren Township. “They feel good about it.”

Exercising for a Cause

Students in the Voorhees High School band in Glen Gardner, New Jersey.At Voorhees High School in Glen Gardner, New Jersey, the reality of living through a hurricane and its aftermath is still fresh in the minds of students and band directors. “There had been a lot of talk … about the tragedy occurring with Hurricane Harvey in Houston; many of the band members could relate, having dealt with some impact from Hurricane Sandy [five] years ago,” says Aidan Giannelli, director of the Voorhees Marching Band. “Everyone wanted to do something but felt helpless about how to help.”

Christina Sloss, an assistant band director, came up with an idea that was similar to a good old walk-a-thon. Rather than walking, though, the Voorhees band committed to do one burpee, or squat thrust, for each dollar raised. The Viking Band raised $1,005. It donated $500 to the Houston Humane Society’s Hurricane Harvey Fund and $505 to, splitting those funds between three different Hurricane Harvey classroom recovery efforts. “We were expecting a few hundred but were very excited when we tallied our total at $1,005,” Giannelli says.

To fulfill their commitment of 1,005 burpees, band members did 15 burpees together as a group. Then the band split into small groups, with each group executing between 42 and 110 burpees. “By doing this, our tally ended up way more than 1,005 burpees,” Giannelli says. “The students really got into it and pushed themselves to complete as many as possible. They really bought into the idea that their body aching was very minor in comparison to what people were dealing with in Houston.”

Voorhees band members didn’t stop there with their generosity. Six students signed up with Sloss and Giannelli to complete a virtual 5K run to raise money for Irma relief efforts in Puerto Rico. “We raised $230 for this cause and ran our part of the virtual race on the grounds of the school on a day that we didn’t have band practice,” Giannelli says. “It has been really great seeing the excitement that these students have about helping others in need.”

Giannelli encourages his students to be giving people. “In our group, we talk a lot about thinking beyond yourself and thinking about what you do and say and how that affects others,” he says. “We mostly talk about this in relation to other band members, other students in the school, and students at other schools. This year, we kind of pushed it a little further and started trying to talk more about putting some good out into the world.”


Photo of  Roxbury High School band in Succasunna, New Jersey courtesy of Mark Miller.
Photo of Voorhees High School band in Glen Gardner, New Jersey courtesy of Voorhees High School band.

About author

Frank DiMaria

Frank DiMaria is a middle school computer teacher and a freelance writer currently residing in Fort Mill, South Carolina. On weekends he plays guitar for a progressive funk band called McGroover. His daughter, Briana, marched clarinet for the Fort Mill High School band, winning two state championships and a Bands of America regional. Frank worked pit crew for four seasons with Fort Mill.

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