Lee's Summit Journal

Lee’s Summit high school bands unite to wow crowds at Citrus Parade

Members of the Lee’s Summit R-7 marching bands’ color guard rehearsed for their Dec. 29 performance in the Orlando Citrus Parade.
Members of the Lee’s Summit R-7 marching bands’ color guard rehearsed for their Dec. 29 performance in the Orlando Citrus Parade. Special to the Journal

The Lee’s Summit R-7 marching band members will fly to the Sunshine State Dec. 27 prepared to make great music and bring home amazing memories.

For the first time in their history, all three of the district’s high school marching bands will perform in the annual Orlando Citrus Parade, held this year on Dec. 29. Formerly known as the Florida Citrus Parade, the marching bands will perform in this iconic event for more than 50,000 spectators along the parade route — and millions more on television.

Representing schools often known for their competitive streaks, these band members have come together as friends and fellow musicians to accomplish a singular goal.

“In a time when it’s difficult to overcome the competitive relationship that cross-town rivals can have, it’s evident in the R-7 School District that we have a mutual respect and relationship that cultivates our unified band program,” said Clifton Thurmond, Lee’s Summit West director of bands. “We’re excited to be part of something truly unprecedented in school communities today, and thrilled to offer our students this prime example of unity. I hope to see it flourish in the years to come.”

Scott Kuhlman, director of bands at Lee’s Summit North High School, adds that there’s a time to set aside competitiveness.

“We love the fact that even though we come from ‘rival’ schools, we’re collaborating for the unique experience of performing music together,” he said.

This joint Citrus Parade performance has been two years in the making. After completing an application process in 2016, similar to that for the Tournament of Roses and Macy’s Day parades, the schools’ band directors were notified of their selection a year ago. All three bands then began working on the music in the fall and rehearsals were held between October and December.

Music for the performance was chosen in tribute to Florida’s sunlit music and culture.

“We’ll play ‘Turn the Beat Around,’ as a nod to Gloria Estefan, originally of Miami Sound Machine fame,” Kuhlman said. “Our other selection is Missouri-born Sheryl Crow’s ‘Soak Up the Sun,’ which we thought would be appropriate for Florida.”

The bands will travel to Orlando as part of their respective music departments, with approximately 30 staff and chaperones from each school accompanying the students. Though travel details were coordinated by the district, the project has presented challenges for both staff and students. Collaboration among the schools and students has been key to working through them.

“One challenge is that our district’s band programs are large in number,” said Kinady Allen, Lee’s Summit West senior and lead drum major. “It’s difficult to get roughly 300 students to do the same thing, with precision and great technique, at the same time.

“Additionally, all of the high schools are trying to juggle the task of concert seasons, so we’ve had to put in a lot of work together in a limited amount of time.”

The students have also needed to hone the logistics of navigating an immense parade venue.

“The three marching bands from the Lee’s Summit district primarily do field shows and a few small parades each year, so we’ve had to practice parade marching and how to uniformly march through street turns,” said David Vest, senior and lead drum major at Lee’s Summit North.

For R. Brady Finch, Lee’s Summit High School director of bands, rehearsals have proved to be complex.

“Scheduling rehearsals that wouldn’t conflict with students’ other activities has been the most challenging aspect,” Finch said. “But, it’s been so rewarding to see kids from all of the high schools interact so positively with each other.”

Despite the work, this opportunity to work with their fellow high school band members has been one of the highlights for the band students.

“I’m excited to march alongside the other amazing bands of the Lee’s Summit R-7 school district, and it’s an opportunity I will cherish,” Allen said. “Additionally, as a future music educator, I enjoy any opportunity I have to advance and perfect skills that I will one day teach.”

While in the midst of preparing their students, the Lee’s Summit band directors also have an understanding and awareness of a bigger picture.

“The experiences gained on a trip like this create life-long memories, and often act as a catapult of motivation for some band members,” Thurmond said. “Being a part of something bigger is so very important in the growth of today’s youth and this provides that growing experience.”