Hitting all the high notes
Snohomish High’s band program is 90 years strong
Jared M. Burns photo
Snohomish High’s bands always give their best at shows and during hometown parades, such as in the 2018 Easter Parade above.
SNOHOMISH — Bill Holt hasn’t touched his trombone in more than 30 years.
This spring, however, the longtime State Farm insurance agent will be blowing it on stage — just like he did at Snohomish High School back in the day.
Holt will join his son Eric and granddaughter Maddie in a trombone trio during an April concert celebrating 90 consecutive years of band at his alma mater.
“We have an awfully good music program here,” said Holt, who initially wanted to be a high school music teacher. “It’s treated our family very well.”
Music became an accredited subject at SHS in 1929, the year after Holt’s father graduated.
Since then, there’s always been an instrumental program, said Joe Boertmann, the school’s sixth-year band director. “That’s pretty neat.”
By the time Holt entered Snohomish High in the early ‘60s, the band program had already dodged the budget axe during the Great Depression, World War II and the Korean War.
By the time his son and granddaughter arrived at SHS, it
had survived Vietnam, levy failures, recession, and a war with Iraq.
By the early 2000s, a national emphasis on core curriculum had doomed band programs in many school districts. But not here.
“Snohomish has never, ever pulled the rug out from under band,” said Linda Pilcher, who retired in June after 41 years as the Centennial Middle School band director.
“The administration really supports music, and the music teachers really collaborate,” Pilcher said. “It is special.”
The first SHS band debuted on May 30, 1930, when a 58-member ensemble played at a school assembly.
Today, band programs serve almost 1,000 students at 13 Snohomish District schools.
These include about 180 Snohomish High musicians, spread across jazz, percussion, concert, and marching bands.
Glacier Peak High School, which opened in 2008, has percussion, wind, symphonic, concert, marching and jazz bands.
Its band director, Tadd Morris, is a SHS graduate.
“He’s the product of a long tradition of success in our band program,” said SHS Principal Eric Cahan.
“What I think is unique is that our student body loves our band,” Cahan said. “So many kids want to participate in it; that’s what makes it such a strong program.”
In a time when many high schools have no marching band, the Panther Band has 130 members, despite being an extracurricular activity.
Each year, the Snohomish High ASB supplements the modest district band budget with what Boertmann calls a “pretty sizable” grant.
Booster clubs at Snohomish and Glacier Peak also raise money to help defray travel costs and meet other miscellaneous needs.
A current Snohomish Band Booster Club fundraiser aims for $15,000 to buy the SHS band program a 90th birthday gift: a five-octave professional Rosewood marimba.
As of mid-December, the campaign has raised $7,000, according to organizer LaRae McCurry, the head of the booster club.
She played in jazz, marching, and concert bands at SHS in the early ‘90s, then earned a music degree from the University of Washington.
Though she now manages a gym, McCurry remains connected to the Snohomish band program.
“I’ve seen what an impact it has on the people who go through it,” she said. “There’s something special about it.”
In its heyday, the SHS band was consistently one of the best in the state.
When the marching band used to compete, the Panther Band won state titles in 1979, ‘89, ‘91, and ‘92 under legendary director Ed Peterson.
Peterson led the SHS band program for 38 years. He took the Panther Band on trips to 22 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Thailand and Korea.
In 1985, the band played for President Ronald Reagan. In ‘88, it played atop the Great Wall of China.
Last year, the farthest it traveled was Bellevue, for a football playoff game.
But there are signs of rejuvenation in the air.
Snohomish will enter a jazz band competition this spring for the first time in almost six years, said Boertmann. Band interest remains strong at the elementary and middle school levels.
“Joe is doing such a wonderful job of getting kids excited,” Pilcher said. “He’s getting high school kids to understand their contribution to society and the community.”
And the community, in turn, reinforces the importance of band.
“We’ve done 90 years where the community has come together through some adversity,” Boertmann said. “We’re declaring that this is something of value, so we’re less vulnerable to the whims of the state.
“I’m pretty hopeful for the future.”
The SHS Band Boosters Club is raising $15,000 to buy the band program a professional-grade marimba. To contribute, write to the booster club email address, volunteer@snohomish
bandboosters.org, or visit this online fundraiser: www.gofundme.com/f/snohomish-high-school-band-90th-anniversary
The club also was selling 90th Anniversary T-shirts for the fundraiser. To see the shirts, find the fundraiser at www.customink.com or through this direct link: www.tinyurl.com/SHSbandshirt
SHS 90th Anniversary concert calls for alumni
The Snohomish High School band will celebrate its 90th anniversary by hosting an alumni concert April 14. If you took band class and would like to play, email email@example.com
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