‘Family reunion’: 200 past, future band students join halftime show

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local high school is growing its marching band this week with the help of nearly 200 past and future students.

Westwood High School’s band will take the field as usual at halftime Friday during the school’s football game against Hendrickson High School. Among their ranks will be band program alumni going back decades, as well as 8th graders who will one day be part of the tradition.

The idea came last year, when then-band director Jack Green was about to retire. “We decided that we wanted to invite alumni to come back and play on his final concert,” current director Thomas Turpin told KXAN.

Green didn’t know about the plan to bring in the extra musicians. About 110 people showed up, instruments in hand, to mix in with the ensemble. 

“And that was what kind of started the thought, ‘What if we did this for a football game?'” Green said.

Westwood expects about 90 alumni to show up this week, plus about 95 8th graders. That’ll swell the band’s numbers to more than 450. 

“It’s like a huge family reunion,” senior drum major Cordell Foulk said. 

Foulk was at the concert last year where alumni played, and said he was able to connect with them through music and their shared experiences. “Coming into high school, you don’t really know how big of a thing it’s going to be in your life,” he said. “And then you just have this huge family of people that’s just there with you every step of the way.”

Westwood’s band leaders want to showcase that ever-growing family with the halftime show, Turpin said.

The alumni won’t go through the same choreography as current students, since they’ll be coming from all over and won’t have the same rehearsal time. They all have the music, though, and will play through everything as a big group Friday before the game. Then they’ll fill in with the students during the show.

“It’s just like, you know, riding a bike,” Liz Garcia Cantrell said. “You pick it up and the fingers kind of remember what they’re supposed to do.”

She’s played flute on and off since 6th grade. She graduated from Westwood High in 1990 and decided to come back for the reunion show because, in some ways, she never left.

“A lot of these kids don’t even know it yet,” she said, “but they’re making friendships that are going to last a lifetime.”

The concert will feature everyone from recent graduates to parents of current students. 

“She’s told me all these stories about Westwood,” senior baritone player Isabel Grudowski said, “but now I get to see her, you know, still in Westwood.”

The marching band plans to host a reunion show every couple of years moving forward. It’s a good opportunity, the directors believe, to help their students learn more than just the music.

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