Trinidad High band marching to Washington – if they can raise cash

Trinidad High band is invited to Washington for July Fourth parade

THE GAZETTE

TRINIDAD – The Trinidad High School band knows a thing or two about distance.

The musicians’ raucous art is defined by it – the space between notes, the required gap between marchers, the lines on the football field that dictate their movements, even the distance of a kickoff during the homecoming game, when they hold a trainlike blast on their instruments while the ball is in flight.

They’re also acutely aware of one other distance: the 1,494 miles between this town on the southern edge of Colorado to Constitution Avenue in Washington, D.C.

That’s where the 63 kids of the marching Miners hope to be strutting July Fourth. The high school band is one of 18 nationwide invited to perform in the annual National Independence Day Parade.

But to march down that avenue playing "Spirit of America," a medley that includes "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America," the band and its boosters need to come up with cash – fast.

Despite nearly a year of fundraising, the band has raised just half the $77,000 needed to cover the cost of the trip for the teens and 14 chaperones.

Raising that kind of money is no small feat in this quintessential Western town of 9,000 people, whose fortunes rise and fall with the mining industry. Gas drilling in the area has meant an upswing in job hiring, locals say.

State and federal statistics, however, show Trinidad residents struggle with persistent problems: The median household income in the town in 2000, the latest year for which statistics were available, was $26,681, slightly more than half of the statewide median of $50,105 for the same period. Eighteen percent of Trinidad residents live in poverty, double that of El Paso County. And the number of births to teens ages 15 to 17 in Las Animas County is nearly twice the state average.

Many of the teens in the marching band come from low-income families, some headed by single moms or grandmothers. Some in the band, said band mom and booster Kristi Zehr, are mothers and fathers themselves, already saddled with grown-up burdens.

These are kids who are intimately familiar with the ephemeral meaning of distance, that often heartbreaking gap between want and need, between dreams and reality.

"Most of them are probably going to wind up going to junior college and staying here their entire lives. That’s what their parents did," said Zehr, who moved to Trinidad 14 years ago with husband David. She takes care of the band’s 10-year-old light-and-dark blue uniforms, two of which clothe son Ben, a freshman trumpet player, and daughter Elizabeth, a junior who plays flute and piccolo.
Mike Curro, the band director and a Trinidad native, is passionate about getting "my kids" to the nation’s capital because he suspects the horizon for many of them is as narrow as the geographic horizon in town.

Trinidad is nestled in a narrow valley, bisected by the Purgatoire River and flanked by a towering mesa to the east, Fisher’s Peak, and a knoll to the west called Simpson’s Rest, where a town founder is buried.

"When I was growing up, there wasn’t a building downtown that didn’t have a board on it," said Curro, a slight man in his mid-30s who sought refuge from the trauma of his parents’ divorce in the band room.

"This place," he said, waving his hand around a room with well-used instruments and a wall of trophies and finalist flags, "saved my life."

Curro, who attended the University of Northern Colorado before returning as a police officer, said gas drilling has brought some economic relief to Trinidad and opened possibilities for kids once they graduate.

He knows, though, things change slowly – and for some, never – in this small town.

Many kids in the band have never traveled out of state or flown in an airplane.

"Maybe they’ll never do anything like this again in their lives. Maybe they’ll never travel outside the state again," Curro said. "This is a big deal for kids who don’t have a lot of opportunities."

It certainly is a big deal for Ashley Tamburelli, 16, who plays the clarinet in the marching band and the community band Curro helps lead.

Tamburelli, one of those who has never flown before, is excited about marching in front of more than 300,000 people including, she hopes, the president.

All the kids in the band have tried to raise money for the trip, holding yard sales, cleaning windows at the local museum and for Main Street businesses and hawking Butter Braid, a frozen pastry dough.

Tamburelli went door to door to sell 800 boxes of the dough, raising close to $2,000, making her the band’s top fundraiser.

She said the trip is important. It will give her a glimpse of the outside world, one she might not get again soon.

"I’ve lived my whole life here," Tamburelli said. "It’s OK. It’s a little small, but it’s big enough for me."

Tamburelli thinks she’ll go to Trinidad State Junior College, a picturesque campus on a hillside on the west side of town that offers certificates in practical jobs such as cosmetology, heavy-equipment operation and gunsmithing along with more traditional academic subjects.

"I have a lot of people here," she said. "My mom and I are very close, and I’d hate to leave her."

Brandon Pingel, who plays sousaphone, said the trip is important for more than just the band members.

"We love our marching band. It’s part of the pride for this town. Us going to D.C. just proves it to the nation."

Longtime Mayor Joe Reorda, 73, said a lot of new people have moved into Trinidad recently because of the natural gas drilling. But at its core, the city is a close-knit community made up of descendants of miners who flocked to nowshuttered coal mines at the turn of the century.

"At one time, we used to say if someone cut their finger, everyone cried," said Reorda, once principal of Trinidad High School.

The town has pitched in to help the kids get to D.C. The police, sheriff and mayor sponsored a car wash, and the mayor is thinking about putting on a talent show.

A recent raffle for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle – financed by a local auto dealer – raised the single biggest chunk of cash, $13,000. There are donation jars on the counters of many stores.

And a fancy new golf and housing development in scenic Cougar Canyon east of town plans to give some of the proceeds of an upcoming golf tournament to the marching band.

But with an early June deadline for telling the travel agency how many band members and chaperones will be going, the fundraising has stalled.

The band has raised enough to go if every member could pay half the cost of their airfare and lodging, about $500, but Curro said that’s impossible for many of the kids – and tough even for some of the chaperones.

He and Reorda vow they’ll get the band to D.C. somehow. They want the marching Miners to highstep down that broad avenue, hearing the cheers of a massive crowd as they pump out a brassy, booming melody.

It will be a memory they can carry the rest of their lives, the two said.

"I don’t know if the kids can grasp the importance of this at their age," Curro said. "But I’m going to keep pushing. This is our family.

"I want them to have this experience."

CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0197 or [email protected]

HOW TO HELP

The Trinidad High School Marching Band has received an invitation to perform at the National Independence Day Parade in Washington, D.C., on July Fourth.

The band has collected about half the $77,000 needed to fly and house 63 band members and 14 chaperones.

To donate: Band Director, Mike Curro at Trinidad High School, 816 West St, Trinidad, CO 81082

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