Only a couple of days into the new school year, Kenai Central High School Band Director Christian Stephanos said he was excited to see the program growing.
“It seems like it’s gonna be a good group. It is the largest concert band at KCHS since I’ve been here,” Stephanos said. “That’s super exciting.”
Stephanos took the reins of the bands at KCHS and Kenai Middle School three years ago, following longtime director Deborah Sounart’s retirement in 2020.
“I moved up here that summer, and have been teaching here since then,” he said.
The band’s numbers dwindled in 2020 due to the combined challenges of transitioning from one band director to another while dealing with a global pandemic.
Stephanos said that numbers are finally approaching a healthy range, with members being replaced about as quickly as they are graduating. More students are enrolling in band at both KCHS and KMS.
Running the bands at both schools allows for a cohesive pipeline for student performers directly from the middle school experience into high school. Stephanos said that the significant majority of last year’s eighth graders stuck with the band program as they entered high school.
“About 95% of them are enrolled in band,” he said. “We only lost a couple, which is great.”
Adding to those numbers are a few students joining the high school band without previously performing at KMS. One student transferred from a school in Texas, while a couple more have never done band before.
Instrumentation in the KCHS concert band is fairly balanced this year, according to Stephanos.
“We have a decent-sized percussion,” he said. “All the rest of the sections are pretty evenly sized. Quite a few more flutes than usual, but they’re not overpowering.”
The clarinets, who played one to a part last year, are being reinforced by five new ninth graders.
The band will be putting on its traditional run of four concerts this school year. This begins with a fall concert put on in the month of October, followed by the Christmas concert and dessert auction on Dec. 8.
In 2023, the band will perform a spring concert in March before ending the season in May with a “pops-ish” concert – usually featuring concert band styled takes on some form of popular music, from contemporary hits to iconic musical groups.
A major focus for Stephanos since arriving at KCHS has been expanding the existing drumline program into a full marching band.
“I kind of started working on it as soon as I got here because I am a die-hard marching band fan and I believe in its educational value,” he said.
The marching band first debuted last year, but this year will be fully fleshed out with 28 performers.
“We march flutes, clarinets, trombones, sousaphone and then the typical drumline instruments as well,” Stephanos said.
The marching band will appear at each of the home football games this season. The traditional pep band will also be appearing at basketball games once that season begins.
Despite graduating a lot of seniors last year, Stephanos is hoping to see KCHS’s band represented well in the All-State Music Festival, held annually in Anchorage, this November.
“I don’t see the ones who made it last year not making it this year, and I hope that there’s more that try it for the first time,” he said.
The KCHS band program’s recovery from the pandemic has been slow. For now, the biggest issue on Stephanos’ mind is continuing to get more students into the program.
“I just want to keep growing it at this point,” Stephanos said. “My kind of next five-year goal is just to get our numbers back up and make sure that they’re staying where they should be.”
Looking more to the future, Stephanos said he’d like to see the band to see larger stages.
“I’d like to start getting the concert band out and submitting recordings to festival,” he said. “I’d love to take them to the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis.”