REEDLEY – The Reedley High School Band Boosters are hard at work to ensure that any student in the community can participate in what’s known as the “big green dancing machine.”
While most marching band programs come with a hefty fee, the students at Reedley High School are completely covered, opening up opportunities for families who would not be able to participate otherwise, Noreen Kajihara, boosters treasurer, said. Last year, the average cost per student was $350.
“With that being said, fundraising is a big part of what this group does,” boosters president Anndra Booth said. “That’s the challenge that we face is to make sure we can cover all of the things that we normally do and any new things that come up that we want to do.”
The busiest time for the Reedley High band is the fall marching band season, but students also participate in concert band, winter colorguard, percussion and brass ensembles, a jazz combo group and the pep band. Always covered in Reedley High green, the band is probably best known for its large size and non-traditional marching that includes dancing in both field shows and parades, earning it the nickname of the “big green dancing machine.”
The boosters pay for all of these activities plus the cost of uniforms, dry cleaning, transportation and anything else that comes up.
Students do have a few small costs when they join the band, including their band T-shirt that they wear underneath their uniform and their marching shoes. However, the boosters and the school make it so students do not have to pay to rent an instrument and if they grow out of their shoes, they do not have to pay to replace them.
Sam Gipson, who is one of three band directors, said they also receive a lot of support from the Kings Canyon Unified School District. Booth added that, for any cost, “if there’s a financial challenge, (students) just need to come to us.”
In the fall, Kajihara said the boosters put on a “sponsor a band member” fundraiser, do T-shirt sales, have a community band night with a raffle and run the concession stand during at least one football game to raise money. They also run the concession stand at a basketball or volleyball game and put on a big spring raffle event every year, and the band has corporate sponsors that advertise on their T-shirts.
For Booth, the dedication to the students and the drive to make anything work is what makes the Reedley Band Boosters special. She mentioned an opportunity that came up a few years ago for the band to play in San Jose with a renowned composer where “it was like one day we heard about it and the next day we were on the bus.”
“I don’t know who paid or how it came to be, but when an amazing opportunity showed up, the powers that be came together to make it happen, and they had an amazing opportunity and experience up there,” Booth said. “I think that there’s that faith in the program, that willingness and support behind it.”
Carrie Gutierrez, boosters vice president, said that she really enjoys the “hustle and bustle” of it all, even if it can be stressful at times.
“The people who help and the people who are supportive, they are there day in and day out and they’re hot and sweaty and hustling and very dedicated, especially during marching season,” Booth said.
The Reedley Band Boosters have been around since at least the 1990s, when the band was nearing its largest size. The earliest date the boosters have recorded on some of their documents is 2001, but many of them were in the band or lived in the area before that and said the boosters were around well before then.
Gipson said the band began growing in about 1985, and the band size peaked at 400 members in 2000. They currently have about 190 students, as the size decreased after the COVID-19 pandemic but is slowly building back up.
Kajihara and Gipson said that the Reedley band is one of the only bands in the area that is free for students to participate in and is especially one of the only bands of its size that has no participation fee.
“We have such a large group because it’s free for the kids,” Kajihara said.
Marching band, and music education as a whole, is often more than another club or after-school activity for many students. Studies conducted over the years have linked music education with positive early childhood development, improved memory and stress relief.
One study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in January 2023 linked music participation to wellbeing in middle schoolers. Researchers Beatriz Ilari and Eun Cho, from the University of Southern California and Yale University, respectively, used “positive youth development” and “hopeful future expectations” as metrics to analyze the impact of music participation on youth wellbeing.
According to the study, positive youth development “focuses on the strengths of young people and their potential to contribute to society.” Also, hopeful future expectations consist of a scale developed by Tufts University that would have people rank their hopeful expectations for positive life attributes in the future, like their ability to feel healthy and safe.
The study found that students who participated in multiple forms of music education for longer periods of time scored higher on the competence category of positive youth development metrics and on hopeful future expectations than those whose participation was less.
Boosters secretary Nan Hashimoto said that participation in band has helped her son tremendously, both with schoolwork and socially.
“My son, he has a slight learning disability, and … band has really helped him overall across the board with his studying, with just his studies and education,” Hashimoto said. “He went from, (it being) very difficult growing up to when he got into band and music, it helped him stay organized, and band has been just wonderful.”
The Reedley band also helps students build a sense of community in and out of school. For freshmen and new students, marching band offers them a chance to meet people before school begins and have support from their peers while navigating the school campus. For band alumni and the rest of the Reedley community, the marching band allows them to remember their own school days and share in the fun and excitement of the performances the Reedley band puts on.
“This community is big about the band anyway, so you see it when you’re growing up and (young), through the parades and stuff,” Kajihara said. “And they’re kind of unique in the moves that they do, they don’t just march, they do shimmies and kick steps and all kinds of stuff.”
Gipson said that Reedley is a show band, so while they attend competitions, they’re not as focused on putting on a competitive show as they are providing an entertaining and fun show. He added that at the annual Selma Band Review event, most people commented that they go to see both their kids’ band and the Reedley band.
The general mentality among the boosters is that they will do whatever they need to in order to give their students that positive experience in the band.
“Parents just know that if we’re not there to help, it’s not going to happen,” Hashimoto said. “We want to make it happen, so we’re going to be there to help.”