WASILLA — Wasilla High School band director Jackie Johnson, a handful of students and some parents gathered in the band room Wednesday, watching a live countdown on a projector.

They took a break from summer vacation for a very important live announcement from the Manilow Music Project to find out which American high school won $100,000 for its music program. They stirred in their seats waiting for Barry Manilow to reveal the winner.

“I was like, ‘just shut up and tell us,’” flute player Trinity Nohr said with a laugh.

Much to everyone’s surprise, WHS made it in the top five, not knowing there would be such a thing in this contest. WHS took fourth place, winning $10,000 for its music program. The room lit up with excitement, cheering and applauding over the victory.

“It’s a great start for us. It won’t take care of everything we need but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and we’re just so tickled. It’s a good surprise. We didn’t know there would be runners up,” Johnson said.

Johnson became visibly emotional over the news. Her eyes welled up and she kept turning away to hide her tears of joy. She was just as surprised as everyone when Manilow mentioned there would be runner up awards. She thought it would just be that one shot at the $100,000.

Manilow, a popular singer with a career that spans more than five decades, created this annual giveaway as a response to budget cuts in public schools. WHS and the other participating schools across the U.S. entered videos to tell their stories and explain why they are in need of new equipment.

The need is certainly there at WHS. They haven’t had a new instrument in at least 20 years, according to Johnson. They’ve had to get creative with their limited resources. She said that the wood shop class made a set of stools for the band, not for sitting but for drumming. The WHS drumline used the stools as drums during this year’s ASAA State Solo and Ensemble Contest. They were the top small percussion ensemble division.

“Imagine if we had real instruments,” Johnson said with a laugh.

The video was created by trumpet player Greg DeArmond, who spearheaded the project, shooting and editing the video. A handful of band members helped DeArmond. All the students can be seen in the final cut. He was in the room when the news hit.

“I’m happy we’re getting money. It’s a lot better than nothing. It’s going to help a lot,” DeArmond said.

DeArmond is entering his senior year in the fall. He said that he was nervous while waiting for the results. He wishes they got the full $100,000 since they need it so bad but he was ultimately thankful they got this financial boost, which is still major.

“I’m relieved we got something out of it,” DeArmond said.

Shaye Wagner, a 2019 WHS grad and clarinet player, was also in the room. He is well into adulthood already, working 45 hours a week on average but he felt compelled to find out how everything went all the same.

“Band was everything to me,” Wagner said. “It’s like a whole other family. I think every kid should be able to experience this kind of thing.”

Wagner said that he went to see the other shoe drop not for himself, but for the next generation of band kids. He said that his younger siblings and cousin play in middle school band and will soon be in the WHS band. He’s happy to know this money will help them and other future band members.

“I think the best thing is just supporting all our brothers and sisters… The next generation of kids are going to actually have instruments they can play that aren’t held together by tape,” Wagner said.

Johnson said WHS is the first Alaskan school to win money from the Manilow Music Project, entering “uncharted territory.”

She said that she’s going to work with administration to figure out how to make the most of this money. While the $100,000 would be ideal since they need so many different instruments and still don’t have uniforms, $10,000 is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

“It’s way more than we had five minutes ago,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Johnson said that there are currently more students interested in band than there are instruments but that’s a “good problem to have.”

“We’ll make it work no matter what,” Johnson said.

To watch the announcement, visit: http://www.manilowmusicproject.org/archives/1639

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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