Members of the Proviso East High School Marching Band swayed, stomped and shouted in the auditorium at Field-Stevenson Elementary School on May 7, offering young Forest Parkers a look at what their future could hold if they join the growing high school group.
“We actually have a very small number of students from Forest Park, which is a reason we really want to increase our influence,” said Cletis Seals, band director. “Most students who come from Forest Park either come to PMSA [Proviso Math and Science Academy] or they’ll transfer to another school outside the district. So we figure if we show them all the great things we offer at Proviso East, it’ll help them stay within the district.”
Dressed in blue shirts that read “Straight Outta Proviso East” and “Proviso East Forever,” the 53 students performed five songs for the packed auditorium. Three color-guard dancers accompanied the show, shaking in white leotards, gold tights and waving their blue flags. Principal Tiffany Brunson asked performers how many were former Field-Stevenson Sharks. Three band students pumped their fists.
“We have a lot of children, of course, at Field-Stevenson and D91 who attend Proviso East and PMSA,” Brunson said. “This gives our kids something to look forward to and enhances the partnership with the schools.”
Field-Stevenson students can join band once they enter fourth grade, and there are 22 students in the current program, said band director Bob Kelly, adding that participation has grown every year.
“It’s good for us to see what the future can hold,” he said of the high school’s performance.
Though participation has grown in the Field-Stevenson band, the number of students involved in the Proviso East program has decreased from 65 students at the end of the 2015 school year to the current 53, Seals said, with only four performers from Forest Park.
“One reason is the change in leadership,” Seals said. “Whenever you change leadership in a band program a lot of students will prefer the styles of the previous leader, and a lot of the middle-schoolers come in with the preconceived notion you have to come in already knowing how to play an instrument.”
Seals took over the program in 2015, after longtime band director Reginald Wright retired. Wright served the Proviso district for 20 years, and even served as Seals’ mentor and coach. During his time at PMSA, Seals participated in the Proviso East Marching Band, and eventually earned a scholarship to South Carolina State University for his trumpet skills. After studying music, he said Wright encouraged him to apply for his soon-to-be vacant position in 2015.
“I want to make sure that I give back to my community; this is where I got my roots,” said Seals, of Broadview. “I want to make sure anyone coming after has the same opportunities, if not more, than I had.”
Seals expects marching band students to treat participation in the program like a job, and he makes all his seniors audition for college programs. After Proviso East’s performance, he held a question-and-answer session for young Field-Stevenson students, who asked questions like, “How do you handle the noise?” “How long does it take to learn a song?” and “Do you know my sister Rachel?”
Elise Cuenca, 8, said the band’s first song was her favorite because she liked how the performers danced free-style. “I just want the stage to be a dance floor,” she said, adding that she also appreciated how loud the band was.
“The elementary schools are the foundation where a lot of students decide where they’re going to participate in the band program, so performing at these schools gives them an influence,” said Seals, adding: “It helps them, it helps us, it helps build their program. It’s a great thing overall to help get them interested early.”