PALMER — The Colony High School marching band is leaving the state on June 4, bound for Normandy, France, to perform for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal military campaign that was crucial to the eventual victory for the U.S. and allies against the Axis powers during World War II.
“It’s been a solid year. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of stuff going on and we’re going to cap it off with the 75th anniversary,” CHS band director Jamin Burton said.
The band is lined up for five different performances, including memorials for U.S. veterans and a town square parade.
On June 6, D-Day, the band will be performing an array of patriotic songs, including music from the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” Burton said the band will be playing alongside 13 other bands from high school, college and pipe and drum bands from across the U.S at several American cemeteries in Normandy. He said the D-Day Commemoration Committee that invited them got special permission from composer John Williams and the producers of the movie for this event.
“The University of Texas director has to direct so I’m just going to get to sit back and absorb that moment and I’m looking forward to that… I can let my emotions be what they are without having to keep them in check,” Burton said.
Burton said that the music will be the band’s first and foremost priority but they will have time to tour Europe, visiting places like the Eifel Tower in Paris and a concentration camp in Germany.
“For me, the history of WWII and how significant that event that is in world history, that’s what I’m most excited about; to have the kids feel the history changed on the beaches those days,” Burton said. “That day literally changed the world.”
He said the band has been working on the logistics and the fundraising and on the music all year and he’s really excited to for the trip and particularly eager for the coming week of rehearsals where they will dedicate four hours day, every day to put the “finishing touches” on their routines.
“They’ve been learning the skills they need to be able to do this all year but we haven’t put together everything into the parade and the show sets because it’s been focused on concerts, and all state and all the other stuff going on but next week we’re going to get that done, finally. That’s my last checkmark before we’re ready to go- that and packing,” Burton said.
The CHS band department has grown tremendously over the years under Burton’s direction, both in size and scope. They’ve garnered widespread attention from across the globe, already performing at events like the Rose Bowl Parade in California and Macey’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.
“Every year now, I get invitations to play at events and most of them I have to say no too just because it’s expensive and it takes time and preparation. You can’t do all of them,” Burton said.
Burton said that the D-Day Commemoration Committee invited them back in 2017 to perform at the 74th anniversary but he had to decline because they just returned from New York.
“It’s a good spot to be in for the organization. It keeps the kids excited and working hard. It keeps us focused on performing , which I think as a musician is our end goal always, to perform for people and to share our love for music and what we’re communicating,” Burton said.
He said they deferred to the 75th anniversary and turned down all other other request to focus the next two years on preparation for D-Day.
“We started working on it like, the day I got back from the Macey’s Parade,” Burton said.
This is Burton’s 15th year as band director and a lot has changed since he started.
“Some of the things I’ve had to say no to, I never would have imagined in a million years that I would say no. But there’s only so much you can do; and to have the options to pick and choose where we think is going to be the most beneficial to our students and offer the most growth and the most culturally exposure… it’s just amazing,” Burton said.
The 2019 CHS graduates will perform in Europe alongside their younger bandmates for the last time, the last major to-do’s of their high school careers. It’s the trip of a lifetime.
“This is going to be their last hoorah and when we get back from France, they’re going to turn everything in and then they’re mostly all off to college or trade school or whatever it is they’ve chosen to do,” Burton said.
This is going to be the CHS band’s biggest trip yet, going farther than they’ve ever gone before. This will be the first time the school’s band has travelled internationally, venturing very far from home.
“I think that one of the things that’s important, not just to music but in education, is for them to experience a broader community than just the Valley. We try to get them to experience other parts of the state and then other parts of the country and now we’re getting to experience other parts of the world. Hopefully it makes them more globally minded people,” Burton said.
Burton noted that a handful of students, parents and staff from across the district will be joining them on their Euro-trip, representing all the core schools except Wasilla High School. Band members from other schools playing with CHS will all wearing the Colony green uniforms.
Burton said it’s taken two years of fundraising to prepare for this expensive milestone. They raised just under $400,000 for the trip with 138 people going. This is one of many more major endeavors Burton has planned for the coming years.
“And for me personally and professionally, it keeps me motivated to not get complacent. You can’t stand still in life. You’re either moving forward or you’re moving backwards. So, it keeps us moving in the right direction,” Burton said.
Burton and the band members all made dog tags with names of their relatives and friends who served in the military. Burton is currently wearing dog tags to commemorate his grandfather, Ervin W. Lesourd who served in the U.S. Army during WWII.
“There’s a cost to freedom and then our job is to make sure we live worthy of that cost and sacrifice that others have made to enjoy it,” Burton said.
Burton said some of the highlights from this last school year include him witnessing everyone the district pull together after the 7.0 earthquake and Colony’s first ever Marching Band Invitational, where multiple bands across the district performed, making Valley history.
Burton said that Houston Jr./Sr. High School is hosting an invitational of their own next year in the same spirit and welcoming all the other schools to play at their school.
“So, seeing that grow is super exciting for me,” Burton said.
There are now five marching bands in the Valley, including Wasilla and Palmer high schools, and Houston and Redington Junior Senior high schools.
“They each have their own challenges… I’m really optimistic and confident in the directors that are in these schools and how hard they’re working and their visions for their schools. They’re moving in the right direction,” Burton said.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at email@example.com