SANDY — Step by step, Mikala Mortensen is laboring to field Brighton High School’s first marching band since the 1990s.
The latest stop for Mortensen, Brighton’s director of instrumental music, was meeting with Canyons District school board Tuesday to seek its support to launch a 50-member marching band in fall 2020.
Among Canyons’ five high schools, only Alta has a marching band.
“You just thought marching bands were everywhere. Here it’s an anomaly. As a result, our student bodies at these schools don’t see the benefits. They don’t see the community aspect,” said Mortensen.
Bit by bit, Brighton students are catching the vision.
Brighton High School Principal Tom Sherwood said since Mortensen joined the faculty three years ago, numbers of students in band have quadrupled from 30 to 120. The orchestra has tripled in size, he said.
“She’s becoming a culture at our school that kids want to be a part of and she has a passion for marching bands,” Sherwood said.
As a first step to that goal, Mortensen asked Sherwood if the school could start a drum line. The cost for drums was about $25,000.
“So we bought the drums. She started the drum line and it was a hit,” Sherwood said.
The drum line played at the 2019 graduation, the first day of school and at sporting events. That stirred sufficient interest that the Canyons District school now offers a percussion class.
This past summer, Brighton students teamed the Alta High School and feeder junior highs to form the so-called mega band that performs in east-bench community events.
All the while, a fledgling marching band booster club was launched.
Taking the next step will cost an estimated $300,000 to field a marching band that will eventually enter state, regional and national competitions, but also help to build community, school spirit and become an integral part of the school’s identity, he said.
The school has had no marching band for two decades so its equipment is “old and a bit neglected,” according to the school’s written proposal.
“I would estimate some of the instruments are 20 years old,” Sherwood said.
The school needs $165,000 alone for instruments, $35,000 for uniforms, and some $10,000 for color guard flags, rifles and uniforms.
Most board members and school administrators spoke in support of the proposal, although Board President Nancy Tingey asked Brighton educators to bring to the board’s next reading of the proposal a specific budget on how much the expenses the school can cover through activity fees, fundraising and discretionary funds and how much district support is needed.
Sherwood said he believes a marching band would provide some students a sense of community at school.
“A lot of those kids who are least connected, that’s where they connect,” he said.
Superintendent James Briscoe said many students attend college on marching band scholarships.
“You can get your college paid for and you don’t have to get (your) degree in music. I don’t think parents understand that,” Briscoe said.
Brek Mangelson, Utah Music Educators Association’s state marching band chairman, in an earlier interview, said marching bands strengthen schools’ music programs and “bridge the gap” between schools’ performing arts departments and the athletic departments.
“In my opinion, you can’t have the ideal school spirit atmosphere without a marching band,” said Mangelson, Farmington High School’s director of bands.
“I absolutely love the activity and what it provides to students. I’m so excited for the possibility to have another school in the state that ‘gets it’ and will stop at nothing to give their students this experience and the opportunity to participate in this life-changing activity,” he said. Mortensen was one of Mangelson’s students when he taught at Westlake High School, he said.
According to Utah Music Educators Association data, 62% of 6A high schools, 57% of 5A schools and 48% of 4A schools compete before judges in marching band contests.
Participation rates vary by school districts, with some such as Jordan, Provo, Nebo, Tooele, Cache, Murray, Park City and Wasatch districts fielding competing marching bands at each of their high schools.
Eight of nine Alpine District schools compete in marching band contests, as do three of four Weber District high schools, and four of nine Davis District schools.
No Salt Lake City School District high schools compete in marching band contests, only one in Granite School District does, Kearns High School. And in Iron and Washington counties, only one of nine high schools competes, according to association data.
If the school board approves Brighton’s proposal in a future meeting, it would join a growing trend, according to Jason Petrovich, the circuit administrator of the music educators association.
This year, 3,569 Utah students will compete with 49 schools, he said.
“In 2013, we had 32 bands compete. In 2019 we have 49. Much of this growth is due to schools that have competing bands splitting. But we’ve had ‘veteran’ schools start competing in the recent past — Park City, Wasatch, Murray and Alta,” Petrovich said.