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Frank Gray

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Concordia scrambles to pay for band trip

The Concordia High School marching band is one of those relatively small, impecunious operations.

Some high school marching bands are massive, 250 members or more, and they have equally massive budgets, well in excess of $100,000 a year, spent hiring consultants, attending band competitions and from time to time appearing at nationally televised events.

Concordia’s band director Dianne Moellering said she can’t say just how big her roughly 70-member band’s budget is, not because she won’t but because she’s not sure.

Mike Watkins, president of Concordia’s band boosters, though, estimates his group raises $20,000 to $25,000 a year, a fraction of what some other schools raise. Throw in the fact that the families of students at Concordia pay thousands of dollars a year in tuition, there’s not a lot of money left for many families to pay hefty band fees.

The band, which has long been called “that Christian band that goes to competitions,” has performed well, though. Last year it finished fourth in Class C in the state marching band contest, and this year it finished second in the state competition, the best finish in the school’s history.

That was just one piece of good news for the band. Also this fall, Moellering was asked whether her band would be able to appear at the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C., if it were nominated. After some thought, Moellering said yes.

As time passed, though, Moellering heard nothing. So she called the parade organizers and asked whether they had, indeed, been nominated. The answer was no.

Curiously, the parade organizers called her back and said that they had been following the band and its accomplishments and invited the band to appear.

That, one could say, is a big deal. The Concordia band, because it has such a tight budget, doesn’t appear at high-profile events often. Five years ago, the band was able to attend an event in Maryland because it cost only $400 per band member – paid by the individual students, by the way.

Before that, the band hadn’t appeared in a big-name parade since the 1970s.

So this opportunity promised to be the experience of a lifetime for the band members, something they would never forget.

It would also prove to be the expense of a lifetime for the band.

Band members will have to come up with $500 each to take part, and most have committed to that, but it is estimated the band will have to raise an additional $35,000 to finance the trip. That’s substantially more than the band boosters normally raise in a year.

The good news is that the band and its boosters have almost seven months to raise the money.

So how do you raise the money?

Oh, there are carwashes, but they don’t raise much, usually just enough to help finance a student whose family can’t come up with the $500 personal expense on their own. There are candy sales or other items band parents can peddle at work.

For now, the boosters are planning a fish fry at the high school Jan. 18. Fish fries, apparently, are good moneymakers.

Plans are in the works for something called a playathon, in which the band will seek pledges and play for 12 hours straight, quite a feat if you’ve ever played any instrument.

It suddenly becomes clear that paying for a band is every bit as much work as playing in it.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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