Hamilton High band honors history, makes some of its own with holiday performance in Waikiki

Visit marks 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor
Posted at 10:00 AM, Dec 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-13 10:00:30-05

HAMILTON, Ohio -- A trip to Hawaii proved to be educational in more ways than one when members of Hamilton High School’s Big Blue marching band helped commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The group of 71 students and nearly 50 parents, volunteers and leaders traveled to Honolulu during Thanksgiving break to perform in the annual Waikiki Holiday Parade. The band was one of 30 from around the country to march in the Nov. 25 parade. Although others from the area have participated in the event in past years, the Big Blue marching band was the only one from Ohio this year.

"The caliber of our band, I believe, is improving, and therefore maybe via word of mouth or something else, they believed that we would represent Ohio well," said band director Paul Dixon.

Hamilton High School's Big Blue marching band was the only one from Ohio to play in the Waikiki Holiday Parade in Hawaii, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Photo provided)

Band members played musical arrangements including “Let it Snow,” “Amazing Grace," “America the Beautiful” and "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."

"They played their hearts out throughout the entire performance," Dixon said.

"Performing for that many people was pretty great,” said senior percussionist Kyle Holmes. “They definitely made us feel welcome."

Band members and leaders have been preparing for the trip for about two years, and their efforts ranged from applying to perform in the parade to getting school board approval and raising money.

Fundraising efforts included a mattress sale, change collection boxes at area businesses, contests, dine-to-donate partnerships with restaurants and door-to-door soliciting for donations. Although the trip cost $3,000 per student, the fundraising brought the out-of-pocket expense down to $2,500, Dixon said. Money raised also helped cover the cost of shipping band uniforms and instruments.

The trip spanned eight days, during which band members performed in the holiday parade and visited the USS Arizona Memorial, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Oahu’s Secret Island beach.

“It was a really life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said junior flute player and color guard member Melissa Gouge.

While at the USS Arizona Memorial, Holmes had the opportunity to participate in a ceremony, placing a wreath at the bottom of a memorial wall bearing the names of those who died on the ship.

Senior percussionist Kyle Holmes participated in a wreath ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial. (Photo provided)

"It was an honor," he said.

For junior clarinetist Meghan Conover, visiting the memorial made lessons from history class more tangible.

"Until we went there, I never realized how emotional it was for some people," she said. "You walk onto the monument, and you look at the names, you look at the ship, and you really feel … the history on there."

The fact that musicians had been aboard the ship hit particularly close to home for Dixon and some of the students.

"They told us about how a band had been there, and they said they only found a couple survivors," said sophomore clarinetist Jahlyn Simmons. "It was a really emotional place to be at."

For sophomore French horn player Daniel Sutton, the stop at the Pearl Harbor visitor’s center provided a new perspective to build on what he’d learned in school.

"I learned a lot about the Japanese side and why they attacked Pearl Harbor," he said.

Although the memorials and visitor center offered additional historical information and context for students, there were ample lessons to be learned from the trip’s more easygoing activities, too.

Conover was partial to the hands-on nature of the Polynesian Cultural Center and getting to choose which Polynesian villages to learn about.

"I actually felt like learning was fun for a little while," she said.

Sutton’s favorite experience, aside from Pearl Harbor, was exploring the wildlife of Secret Island from a pontoon boat and a kayak.

"You got to see the different aquatic life of Hawaii, which I hadn’t seen before," he said.

Students weren’t the only trip participants who took something from the experience. From the honor of watching band members perform in the Waikiki Holiday Parade to witnessing those who were flying on a plane for the first time, Dixon’s favorite thing about the trip was seeing his students' reactions.

“I loved watching -- (throughout) everything that we did -- their facial expressions,” he said.