Musical tradition continues at Key West High

By Jason Koler

They went back to work early this month.

“We’re the first to start and the last to end,” said Gary Hernandez, Key West High School’s Director of Bands. About a month before the final note was played at the graduation ceremony, Hernandez and team of assistants were already preparing for the fall marching season.

With nine home games slated for the 2011 football season, the band is working on a progressively varied show set to The Wizard of Oz tunes mixed with contemporary music lifted from the award-winning Broadway musical Wicked.

The marching band officially reported to camp on August 8 and sections are scattered across the campus in the morning followed by complete band practicing a marching in the afternoon.

Pictured, from left: trombonists Oliver Barnes, Max Mealor, Lazaro Venta, and Taylor Gonzales blow it out during sectional work this past week.

Each section is led by either a specialized instructor like percussionist Jordan Christenot, or a student section leader who first applied and then interviewed for the leadership role.

Lauren Schlegel-Boraas leads her fellow trumpeters Kaley Tolbert, Melanie Maguire, Dominick Rojas, and Glen Celcer in the courtyard of the high school.

The obvious prerequisite is, “they must be a good player,” said Hernandez.

The director himself is a ’97 graduate of Key West High School and earned both his undergrad and graduate degrees from the University of Central Florida.


He then taught in the Orlando area before returning to his alma matter to direct of the school’s most popular programs.

115 students are currently enrolled in the band – nearly 10 percent of the school’s entire population and in lean budget times, that kind of interest can create unique challenges for Hernandez.

“We have 90 uniforms, however we have 115 (students) that should be put in them,” he said and a $60,000 a year budget does little more than provide sheet music and transportation. And none of it comes from the school district.

“The district can and sometimes does provide us with the funding,” said Hernandez, but the amount of money is good for about one instrument – not for replacing items like the 30 year old timpani or purchasing new uniforms.

“We are lucky they are still in good condition,” he said of the 12 year old threads. “We just simply don’t have enough.”

Hernandez has also found other ways to cut costs, like bringing judges to Key West for solo and ensemble instead of bussing his kids to the mainland to earn their medals.

Director of Bands Gary Hernandez with his team of assistants, from left: Hernandez, Michael Fairbrother (Colorguard), Jordan Christenot (Percussion), DJ Parker (Percussion), and Rich Ervin (Woodwinds). Fairbrother has drum corp experience and choreographed the marching bands show. The other instructors either knew Hernandez in Orlando, or arrived via recommendation. Parker is a former Key West alumn who still lives in the area.

“For us to leave Key West it is at least $1000,” he said. The musicians and their instruments take up three busses at $30 an hour and 50 cents a mile, so a trip to the mainland gets expensive real quick.

A majority of the band’s money is raised through fundraising like selling ice cream and charging for parking during the football games. This coming Saturday, the students will be “tagging” for donations at Publix, Kmart, and Winn Dixie, but the primary source of funding is through donors who are recognized in the band’s program.

“We are always looking for big donors to help provide uniforms,” Hernandez said. “It is expensive living in paradise, but we do really well compared to other programs in the state and

better than most.”

For a complete band calendar or for more info, surf over to, or shoot an email to

This past Wednesday, percussionists tore through their sheet music while tightening their paradiddles and flams. Pictured, from left: Austin Rodriguez, Brandon Rodriguez, DJ Avael, Kyle Holtkamp, Josh Morales, and Instructor Jordan Christenot.



The sax section moments before breaking for lunch. Front row, from left: Adam Careaga, Kaila Snow, Cara Michaud, and Alex Lichtl. Back, from left: Brittany Henson, Alli Griffiths, Caitlin Snider, Leif Cisneros, JB Veliz, and Tyler Hadas.

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