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Silver Magic ready to shine — Mariner’s band program ends season on a high note

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | May 17, 2024

The German American Social Club’s house band — The Hafenkapelle — presents the Band Program at Mariner High School a check for $3,000. The high school band program entered an expansion mode this school year under the direction of a new director of bands, Jimmy Ortega, an alumnus of the program and a member of Mariner’s Class of ’04. Pictured are Mike Bortz; Jimmy Ortega; Gary Marvel; Meghen Denny, Mariner Band Booster president; Ron Hagemeyer and Cindy McPhillips. PROVIDED

Mariner High School’s band got a much-needed helping hand — courtesy of fellow musicians.

The Hafenkapelle, the German American Social Club’s house band, donated $3,000 to the program which is in need of new equipment and more.

“We are extremely grateful to the German American Social Club for their generous donation and also grateful for the team of admin, teachers, parents and supporters in the community for our program. The progress we’ve made this year would not be possible without them,” said Mariner High School Director of Bands Jimmy Ortega.

A 2004 graduate of Mariner High School, and an alumnus of the program, he knows personally the impact a music program can have on a student because he lived it. Ortega won two state titles while at Mariner.

“Our goal as a program is to help promote the growth of our musicians — musically and personally — and represent our school, school district, and community in the most positive way we can. While we have performance and competitive goals and believe we will get back to the historically award-winning status we once were — this is not the end game. We want a program that is for everyone, a program everyone in the community can be proud of. We want a program that can be life-changing,” Ortega said.

Mariner High School Director of Bands Jimmy Ortega. PROVIDED

This is his first year as the band director.

Although it is currently undecided how the funds will be used until the next marching band season, there are a few concerns that will take top priority.

One is replacing their 15-year-old drumline for the marching band.

“The wear and tear over 15 years has made it a necessity to try to find funds for a newer, lighter in weight, and better condition drums for our students,” he said. “This donation would cover a small part of that replacement if used, but it would be a start.”

The funds could also be used to furnish the color guard with practice flags for the first time in five to seven years, as well as purchase competitive show flags.

“It is desperately needed. This past year we borrowed flags from another school and used old worn flags that we had in storage. Our current inventory won’t make it another year,” Ortega said.

Another option would be to use the funds to sponsor students with hardships participating in the program.

“This is fee based and mostly self-funded program. Participation does require student fees and we try everything we can to help accommodate families that truly cannot afford the cost — $300 to $350 for the year. No matter what the fund are used on — it will allow our program more flexibility to help those families,” Ortega said.

Other concerns for the program include helping students obtain instruments to play; maintenance and repair of instruments and maintaining musical literature for the students to perform for every ensemble in the program.

Ortega said his first priority as the band director this year was changing the culture of the program.

“I think we’ve been able to take a great group of students, along with the help of the marching band staff, school administrators, teachers, and parents, and turn this into a program the students can be really proud of,” he said. “They’ve taken ownership of themselves and their product and really taken it in a new direction.”

The student body’s behavior has been beyond excellent, Ortega said, as they work hard to represent their school and district in a positive way.

“They understand that working hard, and smart, gets results — and they really truly believe in themselves. While we are not perfect and have a lot of work to do, they believe in time they can become that state champion, and nationally recognized program that it once was. They really buy into our motto of ‘Simply Superior,'” he said.

The second priority was providing quality instruction and a quality plan for improved success for the students. In August that was applied to the marching band, as Ortega was able to bring some “absolutely professional and wonderful instructors” to assist with the marching band, which resulted in instructors for every section of the band.

“What made the biggest difference; these instructors cared,” Ortega said. “When taking the position of director and reaching out to these instructors describing what needed to be done to help elevate the program, they were on board, no questions asked. They care about the students just as much as I do, and they did a phenomenal job this year.”

Another turning point for the band stemmed around relationships.

“One thing that’s been preached to our students, is that we have a platform and a ‘brand’ as the Silver Magic Marching Band. We have the unique opportunity to create great relationships in our school, and in our community. Working on these relationships, I believe, has garnered some attention to our program that has been sorely missed over the years,” he said.

More performances and educational opportunities for students also were added to the accomplishments this year. Ortega said for the first time in years they had a handful of students audition for the Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music. They are adding ensembles to the program as it grows and taking more opportunities to perform in the community.

“We even have students speaking to community bands to explore performing with them,” Ortega said.

Although the first year was tough in recruiting members to participate in the Silver Magic Marching Band, word spread, and membership slowly grew.

“All recruiting this year was done within our high school — just bringing back members that had prior quit the program before I arrived or recruiting students already in high school that have never participated in music before,” he said. “We started the year at band camp with only 11 students. Our final performance at the end of the marching season saw close to 50 members. I literally walked the halls of our school recruiting students like a determined salesman using every sales pitch I could and told current members to bring friends to rehearsal. Word started getting around about the changes happening in the program, and it worked. Going into next year the program is looking at tremendous growth,” Ortega said.

Ortega also brought back the jazz band class which, for whatever reason, did not exist at Mariner High School. In the first year, the class will offer students the opportunity to study basic elements of jazz and perform jazz charts.

“They will also learn how to improvise using different chord structures in the chart itself, creating unique opportunities for students to be creative musically. The plan for this group is to also ‘gig’ around the community when given the opportunity and perform at our school concerts as well,” he said.

With middle schools offering a jazz band class, he wanted to give them the opportunity to continue that interest going into high school. To participate, students simply need to register for the class at Mariner High School.