South High’s Band Program has taken hit after hit, but isn’t giving up


Elliott Austin

One of South High’s first orchestras, 1911. The music program has been one of the most important aspects of attending South and even though the programs have hit a rough patch, they are determined to make it through, but they can’t do it without support from our community.

Elliott Austin, Arts and Entertainment Editor

The South High band program has been indelible to our community and spirit for as long as most can remember. Budget cuts, starting with the stripping of a 7th period in 2020, and continuing with the removal of an entire band position this year, as well as losing our biggest band feeder school, Sanford, have reduced the band program significantly. Despite all of the recent setbacks, the students aren’t giving up. They’re just as passionate about their music as ever, and though their troubles may not be over quite yet, they are determined to continue the amazing legacy and history of our band program.  

South faced another round of budget cuts this year, in the wake of the teacher’s strike in the spring. “After the strike, the district believed that more budget cuts needed to be made to pay for the new contract,” says Sophia Butler, the former orchestra teacher, who has recently taken over as band director, after the old position was cut. She has worked at South for a number of years, but taught mostly as an Orchestra and Jazz teacher. Now she teaches all of the (much reduced) band classes, besides one of the morning Jazz programs. “There’s just physically less periods of band in the day. We’re not offering Beginning band anymore, as that . . . equity access point for kids who’ve never played an instrument before.” She says those new kids are working extremely hard, but it’s hard to offer adequate support when she’s the only teacher. “The students that are in music are really committed. They are really dedicated musicians.” The problem, she says, is actually losing those students who don’t have experience, and could really benefit from musical education, but simply can’t fit it in their schedule. Concert band, the closest to a beginning band we have now, is only offered second period, so that, as well as the six period day, really limits students’ ability to join band. 

Another big hitch in the band program is the loss of our old feeder school, Sanford. The redistricting that took place a few years ago has made it so that Sanford students get fed into Roosevelt rather than South, while our new feeder school is Andersen United Middle School. Sanford had an incredibly robust band program that students, starting from 6th grade, were able to participate in. This created a long legacy of band students going to South and being able to enjoy a similar band program. Last year, Andersen started a band and orchestra program, so a steady drip of new band students will be coming. “But it takes time to rebuild,” Ms. Butler says. “We lost Sanford. Andersen is starting new, which is great, but it will be small numbers for a while.” Ultimately, though, she emphasizes that South, as a community, needs to think about what its music program should be. “If we want it to be what it was five years ago, we need to invest . . . in a full time band director . . . who can make band available and accessible to anyone who wants to be involved.” The loss of the old band director position this year has spread all music teachers a lot more thin. Ms. Butler highlights that programs like Band go through ebbs and flows. South was in a flow with it’s Band program for a long time, and now there have been a lot of switchups, but they’re adapting and hope isn’t gone. “It’s still gonna take some intentional . . . ‘we’re going to support this [musical endeavors].’” The program needs the kind of staff that can support everyone in the band program. 

Senior Max Vossen, who has been involved with Band since middle school, says that even though the district doesn’t view Band as much of a priority anymore, the students there are still into it. “It makes it tough to be as energized and as excited [about playing music].” He also says that the energy in Band feels a lot different. The music programs have been historically really collaborative, but all the changes recently have made that difficult. In addition, he says that new students have a lot more pressure being put on them. But there is hope in the air as well. “It’s kind of [in] a restructuring rebuilding mode right now . . . we have to use the funds that we’re given and the staff we’re given.”  

Music students are running multiple fundraisers this year to raise money for a tour and performance to Chicago in the spring. Their first fundraiser was selling fancy popcorn, and they have plans for program t-shirts, with other fundraisers to follow. Another great way to support the music programs is to go to the concerts. The first concerts will be held in the middle of November (15-17). The band also performs during the annual Swing Night, held this year on January 26, 2023. 

The music program has been one of the most important aspects of attending South and even though the programs have hit a rough patch, they are determined to make it through, but they can’t do it without support from our community.