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.
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.
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.
“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.”