OHS Brahmans Marching Band keeps getting bigger and better

OKEECHOBEE — When Okeechobee High School band director Clint LaFlam took over the reins of the OHS Brahmans Band in 2007 it consisted of only around 60 members. Now, 11 years later, the OHS band boasts over 200 members and consistently qualifies year in and year out for the Florida state marching band championships.

This year the Brahmans Band placed 11th in the 5A classification, the largest in the state, in the hyper-competitive Florida Marching Band Championship on Nov. 17.

The OHS Brahman Band marches down Main Street in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

“It’s a tough competition,” said Mr. LaFlam of the marching band championship, “but when you have the best of the best showing up you have to expect that. It was a great show, our best performance of the year. The kids pushed really hard and it was just great.”

Despite the big stage and the obvious pressure that comes with performing at a high level, Mr. LaFlam says his students didn’t really show many signs of being nervous.

The day after the state championship, the Brahmans Band made the trip to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World to march down Main Street and represent Okeechobee in Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday celebration. Only two other bands marched that day in Disney, both from Ohio. And the massive size of the Brahman Band program was on display to the 60,000 in attendance at the Magic Kingdom that day as Okeechobee dwarfed the other two marching bands. Even both of the two Ohio marching bands combined wouldn’t have topped Okeechobee’s numbers.

The OHS Brahman Band shortly after marching through Frontierland in Disney World. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Okeechobee has the largest band in the Lake Okeechobee area, by far, and the third largest if you include the Treasure Coast. Mr. LaFlam says the key that has made that growth possible is his philosophy to treat the band program in the same way as a sports program, including recruiting promising musicians from the burgeoning middle school band programs at Osceola and Yearling.

“I schedule everything at least a year in advance,” said Mr. LaFlam. “For example right now I already have all my rehearsals and performances planned out for next fall. That’s the difference between a team and a program. If you just have a team, that’s a year-to-year thing.

If you’re running a program you have to have a plan for the next five to six years. You have to think about what happens when you lose someone, who’s coming in to replace them?”

That’s where the recruiting part comes in,” continued Mr. LaFlam. “A lot of these kids in the middle school bands have never been a part of a team or an organization as big and as busy as we are at the high school. So starting with the kids who join the band in sixth grade we let them know that this is something you can continue with all the way until you graduate high school, we want to make sure they get involved as much as possible. We just prepare them for the mindset we have at OHS.”

While this philosophy had made the Brahmans Band successful in competitions and overall more competitive in the marching band circuit, more student involvement in the arts could also be beneficial academically.

According to a profile of college-bound seniors complied by the non-profit The College Board, students in music performance groups scored 57 points higher on the critical reading portion of their SATs, 43 points higher on math and 58 points higher on writing than students with no arts participation.

Still, the enthusiasm around the band program does have one drawback.

“One thing I don’t know is what I’m gonna do with all these kids coming in wanting to join band and we don’t have enough uniforms and instruments,” said Mr. LaFlam. “That’s one thing I don’t know. I’m crossing my fingers that maybe somebody wins the lottery and can donate some to the kids.”

Mr. LaFlam and the band boosters aren’t only crossing their fingers, though. Students in the program work hard to raise money to help cover travel costs for their competitions as well as instrument and uniform repairs with a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, such as the band’s annual cheesecake sale and the ‘Holiday Stroll in the Park’ where local businesses can purchase and design an oversized Christmas card that is displayed in Flager Park in downtown Okeechobee for the month of December.

After Christmas Break the OHS Brahmans Band will be right back in the thick of music performance assessments (MPA), with Concert MPA and Jazz Band MPA.

“We have solo ensemble coming up and our winter guard is doing a competitive circuit down in Palm Beach and Broward county,” said Mr. LaFlam. “We don’t stop. We won’t really slow down until graduation. And then one week after graduation we start up again with band camp for next year.”

OHS band director Clint LaFlam marches next to his students in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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