G-E-T band selected to represent state at Pearl Harbor parade in Hawaii

            Members of the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau high school band practiced during a class last month. The band was recently selected to represent Wisconsin at the Peal Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii next December, an honor band director Tony Kading said his students take a lot of pride in.           (Times photographs by Benjamin Pierce) 

When Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School band teacher Tony Kading first opened a letter telling him that his students had been selected to perform in the annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade, he thought he was being scammed.

He couldn’t let that go to chance, so he dialed the number on the invite. The result of that call will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for his students later this year.

The band has been selected to represent Wisconsin at the annual parade in Waikiki, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 2023. They will join other musicians from across the country to honor the anniversary of the Japanese attack on a U.S. naval base on Dec. 7, 1941 that killed more than 2,400 Americans.

“It was a shock,” Kading said of the invite, which came after the selection committee was pointed to the G-E-T band by the National Cherry Festival organizers, who saw the G-E-T band at their own parade last summer in Traverse, Mich.

A lot of times, such invites go to larger schools that boast hundreds of musicians. At G-E-T, that number is around 50 on any given year, but the selection committee was attracted to the way the G-E-T band connects with those watching. 

That’s the goal for G-E-T musicians every day, their teacher said.

“Music isn’t about numbers at all. Music is about connection,” Kading said. “And so the fact that they were able to recognize that we had a bounty of connection even though our numbers were small, I think that’s huge.”

The band will spend a week in Waikiki and will also visit the Pearl Harbor Museum, the Polynesian Cultural Center and participate in a luau and other educational opportunities.

History is a big part of Kading’s job as a band teacher, he said. It’s not just correcting errant notes or directing music, it’s about educating through a unique avenue.

The G-E-T band spends time learning about every piece they play beyond just tricky measures of notes — they talk about the culture of the music, messaging and the meaning behind the piece.

The band will learn about the history of Hawaii and the role it played in Pearl Harbor while also studying the impact it had on different cultures — including Polynesian music — so they can connect and convey that history through their performance.

“It’s so that when they go there, they can understand the levity of the situation and they can understand the history and the importance of standing where they’re standing and pay respect to all those that made that place what it is.”

The band will hold multiple fundraising events so that money is not a barrier that prevents any of its musicians from participating in the parade. Those interested in sponsoring a student or donating can reach out to Kading at tonykading@getschools.wi.k12.wi.us.

Kading is still figuring out what exactly next winter’s performance will look like. 

One thing he could guarantee, though, is that his students will bring what they always do — plenty of passion, an authentic personality and a connection with those listening.

“For myself personally as an educator, I put a priority on the kids. I make sure that the kids are exactly who they are and they’re not trying to be squeezed in some sort of mold.”

“I think that’s a big part of what it means to be a musician and to make music with and for people is about how you connect with them. I’m just super proud that kids were able to communicate that and show that and illustrate that.”

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