The KWHS marching band plays at all home football games, and earned the highest rating of superior at its statewide assessment this year. CONTRIBUTED

Few things symbolize high school football better than the school’s marching band, with its pageantry, pomp and proud percussive notes pounding in the hearts of everyone in the stadium.

Key West High School is no different, but at the home of the Conchs, the term “band” goes well beyond the gridiron and takes shape in classrooms, where students earn fine arts credits for their participation in the grueling but enjoyable immersive musical experience. 

“At Key West High School, the marching band is actually a combination of smaller musical groups, including the symphonic band, wind ensemble, percussion ensemble, jazz ensemble and color guard,” KWHS band director Gary Hernandez told the Keys Weekly last week during rehearsals for its epic Holiday Concert, which will also include the school’s chorus and steel pan band. 

The marching band performs at all home football games, and this year the Conchs played at home an unprecedented eight times, Hernandez said.

“We also traveled to West Palm Beach for our music performance assessment, which is a statewide evaluation. We received an overall superior rating, which is the highest possible rating,” Hernandez, who has been director for 14 years, said with more than a hint of pride in his voice for his 101 marching band students.

The KWHS marching band performs in the local Veterans Day parade. CONTRIBUTED

The KWHS Band has received more exposure than most other high school bands, he added.

“We’ve played for the commissioning of two Coast Guard ships, because no Coast Guard band was available,” he said. “CNN even aired a segment about one of our commissioning performances about 10 years ago. We’re probably the only high school band that has played at two military changes of command at Naval Air Station Key West.”

But Hernandez isn’t the only adult who sings the band’s praises. 

“The band is an exceptional student-run organization under the direction of Mr. Hernandez,” said band parent Jamie Strunk. “He’s a phenomenal leader and advocate for his students. I cannot say enough good things about this program, the students and their director.”

The musical Conchs will ring in the holiday season at an action-packed, two-night Holiday Concert Dec. 9 and 10. 

The shows will feature all 101 members of the marching band, plus 50 chorus and 20 steel pan band members. 

“This upcoming show is our biggest of the year,” Hernandez said. “It’s staged as what they call a ‘continuous concert,’ so it’s nonstop music, plus singing, in various areas of the auditorium. It’s a really action-packed show with some great holiday music.”The shows take place at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10 in the KWHS auditorium. Tickets are $10 each and available at

Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.