HHS Band hosts spring concert

Published 3:45 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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By RACHEL WURSTNER | Special to the Reporter

HELENA – On Tuesday May 7, the Helena High School band held their 10th annual spring concert, fresh off the heels of the band banquet the week prior. One of the most emotional concerts of the year, the seniors played their final performance as Helena Huskies. The energy floating atop the music notes was comprised of excitement, pride and—of course—a hint of sadness as this chapter closed.

The night opened with the jazz band playing during a dinner put together by the band boosters as a time for parents and students alike to socialize and fellowship before the end of the school year.

Before the actual concert began, two student-led instrumental choirs played a few pieces. According to the band’s head director, Jeff Burnside, these groups were entirely organized by the students and their rehearsals are carried out on their own.

He took no part in assembling or directing these choirs, which speaks to the students’ dedication to music and practicing their skills.

One of the parent’s, MaryAnn Beland, detailed the journey of her daughter Amelia Beland throughout her time in the Helena High band.

Prior to attending Helena, Amelia went to a private Catholic school which didn’t have a band program. MaryAnn said her daughter, who plays clarinet, was very determined to “catch up” and took lessons with Lori Ardovino who teaches at the University of Montevallo.

Despite not playing in middle school like most students, Amelia flourished—she became the clarinet section leader, played in the wind ensemble and successfully auditioned for a number of honor bands, including all-county.

Amelia has been awarded a presidential band scholarship to attend Auburn University this fall. MaryAnn described her daughter’s impending graduation from the Helena High band as bittersweet.

MaryAnn volunteered as a chaperone and helped out during football games and band trips. The band program is in her words “phenomenal” and she “can’t say enough” about the wonderful community, directors, and opportunities.

Tara Bremer, mother of senior Tucker Bremer, watched her son play the flute with the student-organized flute choir.

Tucker is graduating this year as Helena High Schools’ valedictorian and Tara said he plans on resting this summer before attending Purdue University, located in Indiana, to study aerospace engineering. Even with academics being his main priority, Tucker managed to soar above and beyond in band by placing in multiple honor bands.

Tara and her husband met when they were in band, so music was a “family tradition” for their kids. She volunteered as a chaperone with the band and helps run their social media on Instagram and Facebook.

She recounted the band’s recent trip to New York City to perform in the St. Patrick’s Day parade as a fun memory. Tara also described Tucker’s graduation as “bittersweet,” but luckily her younger kids who are in middle school will allow her to continue participating with the band for years to come.

Tara has enjoyed bonding with Jeff Burnside and assistant director Brent Traylor, who is Jeff’s son-in-law, during Tucker’s tenure, and she feels even more connected with them since her younger son and daughter are under the direction of Katie Burnside, Jeff’s daughter-in-law, at Helena Middle School. Her son was an eighth-grader this year who “marched up” and played with the high school marching band earlier in the fall.

Lewis Brooks, superintendent of the Shelby County Schools, mentioned how impressively Helena High School has progressed and come a long way since their founding almost ten years ago in the fall of 2014. Brooks also said he has been proud of the growth of the county as whole and is excited for what lays on the horizon.

The concert band finally took the stage, the first of three bands. They played four pieces and featured moments, such as the first piece, “Songs of Old Kentucky” by Brant Karrick, which involved clapping from the students.

The band followed it up with an arrangement of recognizable James Bond themes in their second piece, something fun for the kids to play and something familiar for the audience to connect with.

The third piece displayed the band’s ability to play quieter dynamics, and the woodwinds handily carried the tune. The concert band ended their show with “At the Crossroads,” a song by well-known band composer Robert W. Smith, which showcased steady bell chimes and the different sections communicating with one another. The group was applauded with a standing ovation.

The symphonic band, under the direction of Traylor, began with a march by John Philip Sousa. The trombone section stood up at one point to accentuate their soli, and colorful counter-melodies traded off with piccolo runs laden on top. The tune ended with a classic stinger note.

Their next number was noble “Blue Ridge Saga” by another prolific band writer, James Swearingen. The third piece of their program featured many different solos and was book-ended by somber notes with a brighter, more upbeat portion in the middle.

The symphonic band finished on a triumphant note, “Alliance of the Free,” a forte fanfare with woodwind trills underlining the closing measures. Their performance also warranted a standing ovation from the crowd.

Last, the wind ensemble, the high school’s top concert band, opened with a piece from the 1995 film “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” beginning with an exciting drum fill. They moved into the second piece, “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss,” written by yet another renowned band composer, David Holsinger.

Mr. Traylor came on stage to conduct their third number, “Deus Ex Machina” by Randall Standridge. It was a more experimental piece comprised of digital bass drops and electronic riffs, making for interesting communication between the analog marimba and synth keyboard.

Before the wind ensemble dove into their last piece, Jeff Burnside took a moment to recognize the band’s seniors by asking them to stand up for applause. He mentioned how his seniors will be heading off to college in many different locations, even as far away as Sydney, Australia, and how proud he is of them. He also recognized numerous members who shined in the all-state honor band.

The wind ensemble’s closing tune was the challenging classic “1812 Overture” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a familiar piece for the audience who capped off the band’s night with another standing ovation.

After the applause, the seniors gathered on stage to sing the alma mater, swaying with their arms around one another as the underclassmen played along.

Burnside composed the Helena High School alma mater back in 2014 with the words written by the school’s former choir director. The song underwent various tweaks and changes at the time, and not many students outside the choir memorized the lyrics since the institution was brand new back then. Now, in 2024, the seniors proudly chanted the alma mater word-for-word.

Jeff Burnside commented about the band program’s growth considering this was their 10th spring concert. He said the most notable thing about their growth is the ever-growing community support that correlates with it.

Burnside praised his students, especially this batch of seniors, for always giving the band their all and claimed that the band wouldn’t be what it is without every single one of them. Each student brings a unique specialty to the table, whether they’re very skilled at their instrument, they display leadership abilities or they know how to knit a fun group together socially.

He noted how some parents continue to participate and volunteer with the band after their kids have graduated, and he’s always appreciative of their support since the parents are the backbone of the organization.

When asked if any singular memory from the past semester stood out, Burnside concluded that his time with the students has been too fun to pick just one. He said seeing the look on his students’ faces once they finished the last piece of the spring concert that night is something he will cherish.