The Thunder Marching Band

The Thunder Marching Band has won numerous accolades in the past, including eight state championships.

Desert Vista High Director of Bands Josh Thye could barely contain his excitement over an invitation received last week.

As part of special events planned for the Lincoln Memorial Centennial, the Desert Vista Thunder Marching Band was invited to represent Arizona at the 100th anniversary celebration of the monument’s dedication on April 23, 2022.

He will lead the Thunder band on the steps of one of the nation’s most iconic monuments, joined by other teen musicians from all 50 states as part of what is billed as the “America’s Lincoln Centennial All-American Mass Honor Band.” 

As official participants of the Lincoln Memorial Centennial Commemoration, the Thunder Marching Band members will be feted with several escorted outings from the Lincoln 100 sponsors, including private tours of the Smithsonian Museums.

The DVHS Thunder Marching Band will also perform a solo musical feature at another of D.C.’s memorials, though the site has not yet been announced.

Thye and chaperones also will be escorted to the National Archives to view the nation’s founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 

April 23 will be the day when the Thunder Marching Band joins with other state ensembles to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial’s dedication. 

The honor of being asked to represent Arizona at the Lincoln Memorial Centennial is a boon for Desert Vista’s bands after the pandemic and campus closures devastated the music program, which relies on public performances and competitions.

Although some students have chosen to return to on-campus classes, others remain online. 

That has not daunted Thye, who will enter his 19th year as director of bands at Desert Vista after succeeding his own DVHS band director Eric Holden following his death.

Thye is actively looking to build for the music program’s future on several fronts.

“We have some rebuilding to do. We’ve lost contact with younger band members after the middle schools no longer had daily music classes due to COVID,” said Thye, who as a 1999 DVHS alum was a member of Desert Vista’s first graduating class.

Thye is focused on contacting middle school band students who were already in band before COVID disruptions.

Pre-COVID years, those younger band students were wooed with invitations to join the high school band in performances.

“I’m reaching out to kids who were in band in seventh grade last year saying, ‘Hey, I know you’re going to be in ninth grade this fall and we want you to know we’re interested in having you join us,’” he said. “They’ve lost a year of band but we want to encourage them to rekindle that interest.”

Toward that end, Thye launched Monday night “Spring Training” and “New Member Help Sessions” which encourage attendance, whether in-person or virtually, by new members and others who may have thought that band, any band, wasn’t happening.

“We’re doing this to kind of get things up and running,” said Thye. “Just last Monday we had drumline auditions, some were on campus and some online.”

He said planning and looking to the future are all he can do after the pandemic plundered his marching band’s numbers.

“This is all in preparation for Fall 2021,” he said. “We’re trying really hard to get it (band membership) to at least 120.  If I can get above that, I will be happy but I’ve got some work to do to even get it to 120.”

At its pinnacle, Desert Vista Thunder Marching Band members numbered 170, while in other years membership hovered around 140 to 160. 

This for a marching band that has earned the Division 1 Arizona State Championship title eight times in 10 seasons (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) and was a nine-time Bands of America Regional Championships finalist, among other honors.

A year of no band practices, no face-to-face music instruction, no band tournaments has been excruciating for Thye and his students.

“I have felt joy this year, and sadness, and everything in between; I go back and forth,” admitted Thye with a shy smile. “It’s either laugh or cry. Hopefully as we move forward to the 2021-22 school year, it will all come together.”

“Moving forward” is Thye’s mantra and plans are in the works for the traditional summer Band Camp at Heber’s Camp Shadow Pines the week of July 19.

“We’re working on the details; it looks like it can happen.  Of course, we’ll do everything we can to keep the kids safe, but I’m optimistic,” he said. 

This May 1, the All-State Band Festival will be a virtual event. However, a DVHS public band concert – the first in over a year – is slated for 7 p.m. May 6 in the Desert Vista High School Stadium. 

“We’re still spacing and wearing masks when they’re not playing as we continue to do what we can to keep our students safe,” said Thye.

Thye and his young band performers hope the lower $5 admission price will attract spectators to their first 2021 concert. 

Thye is hoping the honor of being invited to the 2022 Lincoln Memorial 100 trip in Washington D.C. trip will help woo more students into the band.

He said the Tempe Union High School District is onboard for the Lincoln Memorial Centennial trip in 2022.

“They’re doing what they can to support us. We’re starting to crunch the numbers; it will easily be six figures so we’ll be seeking sponsorships and will do a lot of fund-raising to help these kiddos get to D.C.,” said Thye. “I am truly excited for this honor and opportunity for these students.”

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