When Clinton Williams took over as band director at Rancho High School in Las Vegas in 2013, the program had almost nothing.
Under Williams’ leadership, the program has purchased new instruments and steadily grown from 87 students to 300-strong. It also has earned recognition nationally for both its performance values and its impact on low-income students who make up the majority of the Title I school’s student body.
But the band faces a new roadblock as it strives to reach even higher levels — the financial burden of traveling to national and international festivals, which is both an expectation and an honor for a music program.
“Training the kids is not difficult. The extra rehearsals and clinicians are no problem,” said Williams. “What’s difficult, what keeps me up at night, is raising the money to go on these trips.”
The program is now trying to raise about $37,500 to send a group of students to the Music For All festival in Indianapolis in March, just a few months after the school made its first appearance at another highly prestigious invitational, the Midwest International Clinic in Chicago. The program’s directors are looking to establish a sponsorship program with $50-$2,000 tiers to help defray these costs, with the top-level donors entitled to a private performance at an event of their choice.
Each trip requires fundraising to make the costs of travel more feasible for families where both parents work and students may have never been out of the county, let alone the state or the country, Williams said. For the big Chicago trip, the school managed to reduce the $1,200 price tag for each student to $250.
But the economic reality of the community is felt in other ways, too: The band can’t practice after school as others might, because the teenagers have to catch the 3:45 p.m. bus to pick up younger siblings while their parents are at work. And after a $7,500 marimba was stolen, there was no money to replace it.
While other Clark County high schools have been able to send their bands to France and Ireland, or to perform in national events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Williams said he worries those opportunities would be out of reach for his students.
“Chicago was the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Williams said. “If we were invited to a parade, which takes 300 students, or if the White House called and asked us to represent the state of Nevada, how would we fund that? I have no idea.”
Thomas Leslie, director of the UNLV division of wind band studies, who visits the program once a month to work with students on next-level skills, said the students have a unique style of playing and work hard at perfecting it.
“They’re becoming more and more advanced every day,” Leslie said.
He added that UNLV has an interest in encouraging young musicians who may choose to pursue music in higher education, but even those who don’t continue playing beyond high school benefit from the Rancho program.
“The attention to detail, working as a team, those are skills that are applicable in a business meeting, too,” Leslie said. “These are lessons the students will take with them whatever they choose to do.”