Saint Thomas Aquinas is home to two outstanding bands: the STA Express, and The Saints Brigade.
While most students are sleeping through their last alarm, some are hard at work in zero hour with STA Express. Then, while most students are forcing their eyes open during their second hour, even more kids are working with The Saints Brigade. It all goes down in room 121: the music room. Here, the band students work hard for their various performances at games, concerts, and competitions.
Saint Thomas Aquinas is home to two outstanding bands: the STA Express, and The Saints Brigade. Heading them both is band teacher John Burgess, who has been with Aquinas since 2010.
The STA Express, commonly referred to as the jazz band, practices during zero hour. This band is made up of 18 students. Making up the band are seven saxophone players, one flute player, four trumpet players, one trombone player, two piano players, one guitar player, and two drum players. This band works hard all year round, performing at Extravaganza, the Christmas Concert, and the spring instrumental showcase.
The Saints Brigade is a second hour class, made up of 20 students. This band is comprised of two flute players, five clarinet players, four saxophone players, three trumpet players, one trombone player, one cello player, and four percussion players. This band is most visible at the home football and basketball games. In addition to those, The Saints Brigade also performs at the Christmas Concert, the spring instrumental showcase, and the Saint Cecilia Catholic School Band Festival.
Along with their more visible performances, both groups compete at local band festivals. The Saints Brigade annually participates in the KSHAA Large Group Festival in the spring, along with several festivals at colleges in the fall. This year, they competed at the Baker University and Kansas State University marching festivals.
The STA Express, on the other hand, does not compete at Large Group, but they do travel to annual competitions in the spring: the Baker University Jazz Festival, the Pitt State Jazz Festival, and the KCKCC Jazz Summit Festival.
These competitions, unlike ones that people normally think of, are not for rankings among other bands. On the contrary, the bands get scored for ratings, a I rating being the best– a superior rating– and a V rating being the worst. A superior rating is very hard to achieve; The Saints Brigade has only received the rating twice in the past three years. However, when they do receive the rating, it is a very big deal.
“[Getting a 1 rating] is essentially the equivalent being EKL champions in terms of importance to the band members,” junior Adam Tritt said. Tritt is active in the bands at Aquinas, and has been playing the trumpet since fifth grade.
In the fall of this school year, The Saints Brigade received a 1 rating at the Kansas State University Marching Festival. “We ranked significantly better than the over 100-person band at Mill Valley, but no big deal,” Tritt said.
The students in band are not only limited to The Saints Brigade or the STA Express. Band students are often asked to play for the musical, as well as the band for Show Choir and Dinner Theatre. This makes for a very busy schedule for the students at some times. Tritt, in his time at Aquinas, has been a part of both Show Choir band and Dinner Theatre Band.
Over the years, the STA Express has swelled in numbers. This year, the saxophone section is complete with alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones. The rhythm section for the band is complete, save for a bass, which they cover with a synthesizer. A typical rhythm section is comprised of piano, bass, guitar and drums. Burgess is confident about the size of the jazz band. “Typical jazz band instrumentation includes 5 saxes, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, and rhythm section… so we are in good shape with 18,” Burgess said.
On the contrary, the numbers have gone down for The Saints Brigade over the years. This is due to a large graduating class in the spring of 2013. Because of the 14 graduating seniors, the band’s numbers dropped from 36 or 37 students to 20 students in the recent years. This is also the reason that there has not been a flag team for the past two years.
In comparison to many public schools, a 20-student band is rather small. The reason for this, mainly, has to do with the size of the public schools and their guaranteed incoming freshmen from middle schools. Because so many students come into the public high schools each year, the bands can retain their high numbers. “The impact of 10 kids choosing not to join Blue Valley Northwest’s band is not felt near as much as 10 kids choosing not to join STA’s band,” Burgess said.
Another reason is scheduling conflicts. If students sign up for band, they are also making it hard for themselves to take other electives. They may also have to take summer school at some point.
“These reasons speak volumes about the students currently enrolled in band,” Burgess said. “They are dedicated and truly want to be there. They work hard all year long and are an awesome group of kids.”
The students in band have various reasons as to why they enjoy it. Junior Jenna Steichen, who plays the tenor saxophone in the STA Express, said, “My favorite thing about the jazz band is our annual trip to Pitt State jazz festival. It is fun to play for judges and to see other bands perform.”
Senior Mikaela Wynne, who also plays the tenor saxophone in the STA Express, enjoys the music itself. “My favorite thing about band is playing music that I’ve heard on the radio or in movies. We learned how to play the James Bond theme, which was pretty cool,” Wynne said.
Being in band also comes with its perks. Just this past weekend, The Saints Brigade travelled to Orlando, Florida. “The Orlando trip was a pretty good time,” Tritt said.
As for students considering joining band, the current members encourage it. Many students said it was a great way to meet friends. “To any students who are considering joining band, I can confidently say they will not regret it as long as they go in with an open mind,” Tritt said.