Story by Alyssa Bullock, photos provided by SPS Bands
The Stillwater Public Schools band department, like most things at Stillwater schools, has a history of excellence, and one look at the program now makes it evident that the legacy of talent, discipline, and dedication is still very much alive. Recent years have seen enrollment numbers in band skyrocketing, and the program has been able to grow and develop much along the way. With a team of knowledgeable and skilled instructors, Stillwater Public Schools band department offers students a chance to pursue music and excellence, while teaching them valuable lessons applicable to academia and life outside of and beyond school.
Kevin Zamborsky became the Stillwater Schools band director 12 years ago. In 2004 when he started teaching, there were 275 students in the band program in grades 6-12. The band program has undergone marked growth in the past several years, and today, there are nearly 450 students taking part in band. Each year, the department makes efforts to increase retention of students enrolled in band, and those efforts have really helped to increase overall numbers. In order to continue to have and support this growth, the number of bands will have to increase. This growth has and will likely continue to open up opportunity for new faculty and instructors to partner with the band.
Due to overall enrollment growth, the department was able to add a certified band director this year, a welcome addition to the program. Directors can now focus more attention on students individually and in small groups, allowing more detailed, personal instruction. The new staff position has also allowed for an Advanced Placement Music Theory class to be offered at the high school. Such a class is a great opportunity for students to really expand their knowledge of music and its structure; this is the first year the school has been able to offer it.
The recent growth of the band department has affected many areas within the program as a whole, but one area in particular that has seen great increase is the Winter Guard Program. The Winter Guard program has developed from a small group of about nine students when Mr. Zamborsky started working with them to a total of 60 students in three different groups. Addition to the staff was necessary to keep up with the program’s growth; it now consists of three adjunct staff members.
Because of the program’s continued growth, the band has purchased new uniforms. The uniforms worn this school year are ten years old. The average lifespan of a uniform is only eight years. The age of the uniforms combined with the band’s growth necessitated the purchase of new uniforms for next school year. The money used to purchase the uniforms was from the 2011 bond. Zamborsky said, “I want to thank the Stillwater Public Schools administration for their support in this. Since the band has grown so much over the last few years, we simply are reaching the point where we don’t have enough uniforms to outfit the entire band! The administration was committed to helping our band look their best for the years to come, and to make sure that we could march with pride.”
Keeping younger students interested and engaged in band helps bolster the numbers as the students continue through school. Joining the high school band for a pregame show during football season is one way that 8th graders in band get to experience what marching band will be like if they continue with the program. They perform on the field with the high school band, and then they get to sit in the stands and enjoy the high school band football game experience. The 9th graders are full members of the high school band, coming from the junior high to the high school for first hour and then returning to the junior high for the rest of the day. Numbers in the Middle School band have also been increasing in recent years, and as those students continue on in band, the junior high, and then high school bands are able to experience growth and the opportunities that come along with it.
One opportunity that students in Stillwater bands have comes from the proximity to Oklahoma State University and their band program. Students are able to attend OSU concerts for free, and they are encouraged to do so. In addition to going to concerts, many students in the Stillwater band program take private lessons from OSU band faculty and students. Not only is this a great way for OSU students to develop their teaching skills, but Stillwater students are really able to build up their individual skill level, greatly benefiting the band as a whole. For the faculty members who teach private lessons, it is a great recruiting opportunity for future OSU band members. According to Mr. Zamborsky, “at the high school level about 50% of our students study privately.” That percentage is less at the younger levels, and private study mostly takes place from teachers in Stillwater.
With all the growth that the band has been experiencing, they were in desperate need of a better way to transport instruments from place to place. This past fall, the booster club surprised the students with a brand new truck to load and transport their instruments as they perform in different places. Mr. Zamborsky and the students alike were thrilled by the purchase: “The truck has been a godsend. Honestly, I don’t know how we would have survived this past fall without it.” Due to expansion of the marching band, the old truck was just not big enough to load and transport all necessary equipment safely; this new truck is more spacious, and the booster club is looking into adding a second level in the interior of the trailer for more protective and efficient storage. “The goal is to make it so that students can walk through the trailer and pick up or load their instrument and their uniform for storage on the truck.” The new truck has really helped increase efficiency in transporting the students and their equipment.
The bands’ recent successes at contest evidence the benefits of a growing program. The marching band finished its season third in its class, this year being the first year that any Stillwater band has medaled at the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association State Championships. The middle school and junior high bands both received Superior ratings on their performances, an accomplishment that testifies to the hard work and dedication the bands put into practicing.
Another exciting thing that has come along with the growth and development in the band department is the opportunity to perform in Paris. Over winter break, members of the high school band will travel to France and perform some of the selections they have prepared. “The students were thrilled about the opportunity to perform in Paris,” said Mr. Zamborsky. “As they learn more details about the trip, I think their anticipation and excitement continues to grow.”
Preparations for the trip to Paris are going well, but there is much more involved in the process since it is an international trip. Students and chaperones have to acquire passports if they do not already have them, and info sessions about international travel, language barriers, and other new things students can encounter will be held as the group gets closer to their departure.
Traveling internationally is expensive, and the students are responsible for their own costs. The band has sponsored fundraisers that allow students to raise money toward the costs of this trip, and will likely have more in the future. Be on the lookout for ways you can support these students and the wonderful opportunity that they have been blessed with.
One easy way our community can show support to students and the band department would be attending the Spring Concert on Tuesday, May 10th at 7p.m. in the Stillwater High School Performing Arts Center. Here, the bands show off pieces they have spent months preparing. It certainly is an exciting time for the Stillwater band department; hopefully the growth and success continues, and the students can enjoy the benefits that a rich music education can bring them!