“It started as a fun way for alumni to come and play some of the old songs they know and bridge that generation gap."

The Smoky Valley High School pep band saw a few new faces at Friday’s game, though these players are no strangers to Smoky Valley music programs.

Band director Adam Keller called in Smoky Valley alumni and Lindsborg community members to join the band in an evening of fellowship.

“It started as a fun way for alumni to come and play some of the old songs they know and bridge that generation gap. We had a great turnout — even the assistant principal from the high school brought his trumpet out,” Keller said. “I wanted the high school kids to see that if you stick with it, you can play your instrument pretty much forever after high school, and have a great time doing it. I also wanted to show the community members and alumni that we are keeping many of the traditions alive and that I want them a part of the music program they have been involved with or supporting for years.”

In his first few months at USD 400 this year, Keller felt plenty of encouragement and willingness from the community.

“The community had such overwhelming support when I got here. There's so many people here who played an instrument and kept saying ‘we’re happy to help in any way,’ so I thought this could be a great opportunity to play together, even with the recent graduates who are home for break,” Keller said. “We hope to do this regularly at the first home basketball game of the new year.”

The alumni and community band is one of a few new traditions Keller hopes to start in his first year in USD 400, while maintaining current customs.

“There’s a lot of things the band has always done, so I'm taking this year to learn what those things are and what the kids and community expects us to do, while bringing my own twist,” Keller said. “We're checking all those boxes while bringing my own vision for the program.”

Of course, Keller and previous band teacher Shawn Knopp carry the legacy of Arthur Jay Steinberg, USD 400’s band teacher for over 40 years, once he lost his battle with cancer in 2014.

“I knew Jay for a lot of years, even playing with him in the Hutchinson Municipal Band 20 years ago when I was a beginning band kid myself. It seems that through the years there hasn’t been much let down,” Keller explained. “Each director picks up the baton, pun intended, and keeps the ensembles and success moving forward. I am honored to fill those shoes and I am going to work hard to do my best and make the community proud.”

Though Keller is adding his own ideas, he hopes the standards of excellence will endure.

“Looking back, you see how many times Smoky Valley performed at the Kansas Music Educators Association conference, all their awards — we want to keep those things alive and keep those expectations high,” Keller said. “We want to remember that this is an important part of community and we'll push ourselves to continue improving while holding the tradition we already have.”

One of those improvements Keller hopes to make is recruitment, starting with encouraging Smoky Valley’s youngest players to stick with their instruments at an event this month.

“We have an awesome night planned for Jan. 31 called the ‘Mass Band Extravaganza!’ That night, all 194 Smoky Valley band students will perform together during half time of the varsity boys game,” Keller said. “It’s all about recruiting. I want fifth grade students to feel successful so they will stay involved next year, then they’ll keep doing new things as they stay involved. I know here the band has always been a sizable group and I think I can keep the band at that size and the quality of where they expect to be.”