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Sandy Journal

Alta band program snags first-place regional win, provides ‘home’ to students

Feb 03, 2023 12:06PM ● By Julie Slama

In its 10th year, Alta High marching band performed a tribute to its first show, winning first place at the Bands of America western regional competition. (Photo courtesy of Julia Burnett)

More than 300 hours per student was dedicated to their seven-minute halftime performance, but it paid off.

Recently, Alta High’s marching band snagged first place in the Bands of America western regional competition in St. George against 31 other bands in front of 10,000 people under the direction of drum majors and seniors Kelsey Fairbanks, Henry Stueber and Yves Wood. The Hawks also captured awards for top visuals and general effects.

Alta marching band director Caleb Shabestari was excited about their performance more than the placement.

“By the time we got to Bands of America, they had performed this show, probably 100 to 200 times so we weren’t teaching them the notes and rhythms or put your foot here; it was all about getting them focused for their last time,” Shabestari said. 

The Hawks had placed fifth in their class the day before at state, then, competed at 9 a.m. at the Bands of America contest.

“We weren’t sure if the morning performance was going to be our last time or if we’d be asked back for the evening performance. We were first up, and our kids gave their whole heart to the morning performance. It was beautiful. It was by far their strongest of the whole season,” he said. “Then, we found out we were lucky enough to perform in the evening block, and we’d be the last band of the whole day, performing around 11 o’clock at night. The kids were exhausted, but they performed one last time and somehow, they topped their morning performance.”

The show was a return to the show, “From the Ashes,” first performed 10 years ago with the rebirth of Alta’s marching band; previously the school had a marching band, but it went dormant in the 1980s, Shabestari said. This year’s “To a Flame” sequel featured some of the same music from Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite,” but this year’s show featured about 50 more students than that first year.

Junior Parker Burns was one of the 95 members of Alta High’s marching band. It’s his third year participating.

“We had an amazing show this year,” he said. “Our show featured a phoenix, and it was a remembrance show; we realize where we started and now, we are seeing how much we have progressed. I love marching band because it’s such a tight-knit community and we’re working together on something we all love.”

Burns started playing alto saxophone as a sixth-grader because Albion Middle band teacher Jenni Perkins showed him the instrument, teaching him how to play a few notes from a Harry Potter song he loved.

“Mrs. Perkins taught a lot more advanced things that my peers from other schools didn’t know; she’s an amazing teacher,” he said. “She understands middle schoolers. If I needed to talk to a teacher, she was the teacher, and she still cares about her students even after middle school.”

Perkins was the one who introduced Burns to the summer Canyons All-District Marching Band, which includes Alta’s marching band and director, making that an easy transition for him.

Currently, Burns plays tenor in the marching band, wind symphony and jazz band. He also participated in this year’s 175-member Canyons All-District Marching Band, which marched in Sandy’s Fourth of July and Cottonwood Heights’ Butlerville Days parades.  

Marching band’s competitive season started in late September and concluded in November. During the fall, Alta took third at the Bridgerland Band Invitational held at Utah State University.

“We have a motto to put everything out on the field and not to have any regrets, which I’ve tried to do every single competition. My freshman and sophomore year the nerves got to me a little bit, but this year, I felt a lot more confident in my abilities, knowing I could do what I need to do to be successful,” Burns said.

Next year, he wants to be a drum major, so he plans to audition this winter.

“Band has been a very big part of me. It was the first experience I had with high school. It has helped me with being able to have a group of friends I could talk to and Mr. Shabestari, he’s an amazing teacher and he’s able to help me in more ways than my playing ability. I think as a drum major, I can be the best leader I can as I’ve appreciated that from other leaders I’ve had in my past,” he said. 

Shabestari said not only do his drum majors direct on the field, but they are also in charge of operations and logistics, with much work behind the scenes.

“I always try to pick the strongest marchers, strongest musicians for these drum major positions,” he said.

Burns has autism, but he doesn’t ask for any special accommodations.

“I feel like I’ve been treated the same as any other band student, which is what prefer. I wouldn’t want to be given something just because they feel obligated to; I would want to do it based on my own skill,” he said. “I would honestly say that my autism pushes me forward because I’m able to focus more. I do get frustrated at times where I know I can play something, but it’s just not happening. I know when I concentrate, I can do it. I love band because it is a very inclusive activity where anybody can be a part of it and we’re all playing because we want to be there. Plus, band helps me to stay motivated in school. I know every single day that if I go to school, I will have a band class.”

Having his classroom be a safe place for students is critical to Shabestari.

“They’re here before school, during lunch, between classes and after school. It is their home when they are at school,” he said. “It makes me so happy to know the kids have a place they can come during a stressful day and instantly feel better.”

More than the awards, Burns said he appreciates the “band family.”

“I like being able to walk into the band room and just talking with anyone and hanging out in just this community,” he said. “It’s a place where we all just have fun and be a family; hanging out with them makes this the best part about band.”