By Terry Groover
It would have been easy for members of the Pride of Yukon to feel sorry for themselves, to just put this year on cruise control. Instead, the more than 170 members of the Yukon High School Band took it to the next level.
The 2016-17 band season could not have started off worse. A senior member of the band, Matthew Silva, died Aug. 26 in an auto accident on his way to school. He was just 17.
Third-year band director Darnell Zook said the tragedy took a toll on band members, as well as the rest of the high school.
“He was a band kid,” Zook said.
Friday, the band’s Wind Ensemble, which is its top group, were scheduled to debut the song “(w)Hole,” which was written by composer Jamie Whitmarsh, in honor of Silva and his family.
The concert was the culmination of a season of success that could have been anything but.
“I told the kids early on, especially in marching season, ‘you have every excuse and it would be a legitimate excuse, to have an awful year. You have every excuse to fall apart; you have every excuse to lose focus. … We’re not going to do that,’” Zook said.
The students regained their composure and remained focus on what was before them.
The band has had one of its best years, earning two sweepstakes awards, which requires earning superior ratings in the state marching competition as well as superior ratings in stage performance and sight-reading in concert band.
The band’s wind ensemble as well as its symphonic band each received superior ratings in all three categories.
The group’s concert band, which is made up of freshmen, received superior ratings in marching and stage performance, but received an excellent in sight-reading.
Zook said the concert band’s performance was very good, but judging on the day of the competition was extremely tough.
In addition, 115 members of the band recently traveled to St. Louis to participate in the St. Louis Heritage Music Festival, where they received top honors, including Oustanding Band Group, Most Outstanding Musical Group and a gold rating. One student, Jake Ikeda, received the Maestro Award as the outstanding soloist.
What makes the success even more impressive is that the group had only five rehearsals before heading the competition.
“This was really good for them to jump in and do this,” he said.
Zook said this year’s success honors Silva’s legacy.
“I’m proud of the way they responded as musicians. I’m proud of the way they responded as people and as a community. I cannot imagine them doing more than they have done, or handling a situation better than that,” Zook said.
The band director said the students got through the situation by leaning on one another, talking about the situation and being very patient with each other.
They also worked hard to make sure Silva’s family knew how important he and they were to the program and that they had not been forgotten.
They were to be honored during Friday’s concert.
Zook said the band is moving forward, while at the same time remembering the tuba player who no longer is there.
“This is the first time, this morning, where the gravity of this music we are doing hit us a little bit. It is the first time I’ve seen tears in this place in a couple of months. It’s turning into, more often than not, if Matt is mentioned it’s with smiles and laughter,” he said. “He is remembered fondly.”