A Year in the Life of a New York Band Program—From Football Field to Lincoln Center to Pomp and Circumstance

On May 18, the jazz band at Harrison High School in New York’s Westchester County will take up temporary residence in a neighborhood Italian restaurant. The restaurant will serve dinner, creating a kind of supper club that will include a live performance by the band for parents and friends.

The Marching Huskies of Harrison (New York) High School had a busy, musical year.

The next gig will be the Harrison Memorial Day Parade, of which the Huskies band is always a mainstay. “We are out in the community a lot,” explains band director Ferdinand (Fred) Pasqua. “I want my students to get an idea of what it is like to perform outside the four walls of a school building.”

This school year included a band performance as wooden soldiers at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall “Babes in Toyland” performance and marching down Main Street at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Memorial Da parade will almost, but not quite, end a busy 2008-09 for the Marching Huskies.

Co-directed by MENC members Pasqua and Charles Briem, in June the band will play at the high school’s graduation, when cap-and-gown-clad seniors join undergraduate band members for one last, sometimes emotional performance, Pasqua said.

He adds, “Whether or not band members go on to a music career in college, once they leave here, we want them to think of music as an integral part of their lives.”

In the midst of end-of-school activities, Pasqua and Briem already are looking ahead to the next school year. They need to settle on a theme and music for the fall field program, for example.

Briem says every band “has its own personality” and that he and Pasqua look for music that will be challenging but also “play well to the people sitting in stands.”

“We don’t do the heavy stuff for football games or parades. We save that for concert season and wind ensemble,” Pasqua said with a laugh.

So what else made the 2008–09 school year so memorable for the 150 band students and their directors? A few highlights count out the weeks in a year in the life of the Harrison Huskies. There were many others.

July—Eight students nominated their peers attend a leadership camp for potential drum majors. Later, auditions and a chance to run a rehearsal helped to select the drum majors.

  • August—Band camp began in ernest. Pasuqa and Brein had settled on a program of cartoon theme songs, which were not only crowd pleasers, but required technical skill as well.
  • Fall— Football games and a honing of the field and parade programs. Marching in the town Columbus Day parade in October.
  • November— Rehearsals began for the winter concert, but the Marching Huskies also appeared in the town Veterans Day Parade.
  • December— “Babes in Toyland” performance with the Little Orchestra Society Performance at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, as well as the school’s winter concert.
  • March— The band traveled to Orlando, Florida for performances and workshops at  Walt Disney’s Magic Music Days Festival.
  • In April— Spring Concert at Harrison High School as well as playing for the school musical theater production.

None of of this would be possible without enthusiastic school support, such as from Harrison School District Superintendent Louis Wool, Principal James A. Ruck, an active group of  band boosters, and community support, Pasqua and Briem said. For more information on those groups, as well as more on Pasqua and Briem’s teaching philosophies, look for a second Harrison Huskies story on the MENC News Stand next week. One hint? They discuss how they teach first time band students the basics while offering musical challenges to their seasoned music students.

In the meantime, check out some of the band’s podcasts or visit the band Web site.

 —Roz Fehr, May 15, 2009. © MENC: The National Association for Music Education