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The City Journals

Herriman High students jazzed for New Orleans trip

Mar 06, 2019 11:38AM ● By Jet Burnham

HHS’s Jazz Band impressed guests with background music. (Photo/Scott Burnham)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Herriman High School’s band students are jazzed about going to New Orleans next month.

“I’ve wanted to go to a place that’s special for band kids, and New Orleans is where jazz was born,” said HHS band director Brandon Larsen. He hopes the experience will have an enormous effect on his students.

“It’s like showing kids the beach for the first time,” he said. “You see their faces, and they light up, and they’re all excited. I get to show the kids the stuff that I’ve been teaching them, day in and day out, for the first time. I’m passionate about it, and I want to show them why I’m passionate about it.”

Larsen will take 95 students to New Orleans where they will perform in Mardi Gras World, the French Quarter and in a combined concert with New Orleans-area high school bands. They will also attend workshops at Tulane University.

Another highlight of the trip will be the iconic Mississippi River steamboat ride, complete with a live jazz band. 

Sophomore Rylee Mecham, a percussionist, looks forward to watching jazz musicians perform up close. She hopes to pick up some of the tricks they do with their drumsticks.

Larsen hopes his students’ own performance will be inspired by seeing, hearing and feeling the spirit of jazz that defines the city.

“You go anywhere on the streets there, and you’re going to hear jazz—just pure, real jazz,” said Larsen.

Cheryl Wanlass is thrilled that her son, Russell Horrocks, a percussionist in the Jazz Band, has the opportunity to experience the music and culture of New Orleans before he graduates.

“I hope it seeps into his bones and he never wants to stop playing music,” said Wanlass, who is also a musician. “I just hope it cements his desire to play for the rest of his life.”

Other band parents view the trip as a bonding experience for their children, who feel a sense of belonging to a band family.

“With all the suicides and bullying, these kids really stick up and are there for each other,” said Andrea Campbell, whose son is a trumpeter. She said the cost of the trip is worth it for her son to form stronger connections with his bandmates and the wider music community. Because of a conflict with his work schedule, he was not able to volunteer at the gala. Fortunately, there are other fundraisers he can participate in.

Denise Christiansen, band fundraiser director, organized numerous fundraisers to make the trip possible.

“It’s been a dream of our band director for a couple of years, and it’s never come to fruition,” said Christiansen, whose son has played the tuba at HHS for two years. “But they’ve never had a fundraising director like me. We’re going to make it happen.”

To jumpstart the fundraising, she coordinated HHS’s first Valentine’s Day fundraising gala, "A Night in New Orleans,” which offered couples a romantic evening of dinner, mocktails, a dessert buffet and, of course, jazz music. HHS’s jazz band provided live music for the evening, impressing guests with its skills and inspiring them to hit the dance floor of the lavishly decorated JATC South campus building.

Wanlass, whose son is a senior, regularly feeds the marching band and was asked to cater the event. With the help of volunteers, including HHS cafeteria manager Jodie Bowles, she prepared a French-Creole-inspired chicken cordon bleu. While initially reluctant, Wanlass volunteered her extensive catering experience to ensure the inaugural fundraiser dinner set a successful precedent.

She also loves being part of the band family.

“I would do anything for these kids,” she said.

While the jazz band entertained diners, members of the symphonic and concert band helped in the kitchen and worked as servers, attending to the details that would ensure everyone had a special night.

Christiansen brainstormed a variety of creative ways for students to earn their trip. She said district officials frown upon fundraisers that require selling door to door, which is fine with her.

“If I have to sell cookie dough and wrapping paper and pizza cards, I’m going to puke,” she said.

Upcoming fundraisers include selling Krispy Kreme donuts (Feb. 25–March 8) and a yard sale. Students are also selling HHS car air fresheners and working at the concession stand during University of Utah sporting events.

The proceeds from all the fundraising efforts, including the silent auction held during the gala, will pay for all the tour expenses.