Shawnee Mission West band students take Westridge Middle School musicians under their wing

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Music is in the air at Shawnee Mission West High School, and the existing marching band has some talented players waiting in the wings.

They go together like football and cooler weather. Friday night pigskin wouldn't be the same without marching bands, and S.M. West’s band directors have a plan to attract the next generation.

On this band’s field, which is filled with music, everyone is a conductor. Shawnee Mission West High School, the Pride Marching Band has a tradition of including young musicians with the varsity players, helping newcomers learn from experienced players.

Part of the show includes sharing the stage. Bill Thomas, S.M. West’s Director of Bands, is in his 25th year as a music teacher at this level. As a means of ensuring the next generation of marchers, Thomas introduced "Middle School Band Night” at a recent Vikings varsity football game. Last Friday night, 80 members of the Pride Band were joined by younger players from Westridge Middle School, the group that will take over after they've graduated.

“When they get to be out there, it kind of hooks them,” Thomas said. “As a band director, it's fun. We take them from the unknown to the known all day every day.”

The seeds are already being planted at the middle school level. Younger musicians, such as eighth grade trumpeter Hannah Silverstein, a Westridge student, says she treasures a chance to play with the upperclassmen.

“Most of the time, high schoolers look down on us, and say, ‘they're younger than us,’” Silverstein said. “(The older musicians) actually include us, and say, ‘you're going to be part of the band someday.’”

West senior Lauren Walbert welcomes the middle schoolers, who have already been learning the same songs as their high school heroes, resulting in a feeder system of sorts into the high school music program.

“They are learning how to work hard and learning how we do things before they get here,” Walbert said. “If you get the music part down now, the marching doesn't seem so hard later.”

Every three years, Thomas leads band members to an overseas getaway to London, England, where the Pride Marching Band performs in a large New Year’s Day parade. Thomas says that’s also been a drawing card, attracting more middle school students to get involved in band.