CEDAR CITY — When Cedar High School’s basketball teams host state playoff games on back-to-back nights this weekend, one of the Reds’ not-so-secret weapons will be seated in the bleachers, directly across the court from the visiting team’s bench.
Comprising around 150 students, the Cedar High Pep Band will be there in full force, providing a high-volume boost of energy to the athletes on the court, just as they have been doing during home games since the start of the regular season.
Corry Nielsen, head coach of Cedar’s girls basketball team, says he and his players appreciate the extra home-court advantage the band provides.
“Our band is our sixth man. Their support is instrumental to our success. Every opponent who plays in our gym comments on the band. It is very intimidating for them,” Nielsen said. “We are honored to have a basketball game at their band concert.”
Cedar High’s band has a new director this year in Keith Sorensen. Sorensen succeeds longtime director Steve Shirts, who retired last year after teaching music for more than three decades.
“Mr. Shirts was here for 32 years and he built a very well-functioning program, so it has been relatively easy to step into this role and keep things going. The students are motivated and take a lot of responsibility on themselves,” said Sorensen, himself a Cedar High graduate and one of Shirts’ former band students. “The program will definitely evolve and change in the coming years, but for now, it’s been like getting behind the wheel of a Ferrari. What do you change? Nothing! You just drive.”
The CHS band, the largest single student group on campus, includes students in all four grades, almost all of whom played an instrument in middle school and chose to continue playing as they got into high school.
“Of course, they can’t all be in one class, so there are actually five band classes,” Sorensen said. “There is a place for absolutely everyone who wants to play.”
The largest section in the band is the percussionists, with 30 students. They have even established their own new drumline, called the Redline. Another 28 students play the trumpet, Sorensen said. The rarest instrument in the band is the bassoon, with just two players, and there are currently no oboes, he said.
During games, the band draws from a repertoire of about two dozen pieces, ranging from “The Star Spangled Banner” to the ever-popular CHS school song.
During games, Sorensen says he delegates most of the director duties to pep band student director Luke Roberts, a sophomore.
“Luke, in particular, is in charge of calling the songs the band will play, starting the band, and making sure we end before the ball goes back in play,” Sorensen said. “It’s a bit of a delicate job, and he has really learned how to do it well.”
There are also songs the band plays at certain times during every game, he added. They always play “25 or 6 to 4” right at the beginning, “Hey! Baby!” between the third and fourth quarters, and they play the school song with the cheerleaders during halftime followed by “Mumbo Jumbo.”
Other popular favorites the band enjoys playing include “Sweet Caroline,” “Let’s Groove” and “The Hey Song.” At least once per game, the percussion section loves to crank out the frenetic signature drum lick from the Metallica hit “One.”
“Some songs are played at traditional times during the game, but mostly they are chosen on the spot by the student director,” Sorensen said. “The band meets before school for a few weeks at the beginning of the year to learn and polish the songs for the pep band, but then we usually just show up and play.”
“It’s really powerful that the students are doing it, and the director is supporting, rather than the other way around. They really feel and believe that it is their band, because it is.”
Being a member of the band is a fairly major commitment, Sorensen said, noting that students spend three to five hours per week practicing during class, plus another 90 minutes on their own time.
“In addition, they get together by section to practice their own parts,” he said. “All in all, an average student will spend five to seven hours playing their instrument each week, not including performances.”
In addition to appearing at home football and basketball games, the CHS band can be heard at various venues throughout the year, including the Iron County Fair Parade, the Southern Utah University Veterans Day program, CHS homecoming parade, plus regular concert performances at the school.
“Pep band is a blast, but it’s not the core of what we do,” Sorensen said. “Our real work is our home concerts and competitive festivals in the spring. The band spends countless hours of practice and rehearsal to play very high-level and exciting music across many genres. We play a few concerts each year, and we also travel to band festivals at both the region and state level to be adjudicated and perform alongside bands from other schools. It’s somewhat similar to a sports team making the playoffs. It’s very challenging and exciting for us.”
Sorensen said he’s enjoying his first year at the helm at CHS.
“The students, faculty and administration at Cedar High have been very welcoming, and have helped me hit the ground running. Nothing great ever happens without a ton of help, and I’ve had it in spades,” he said.
Sorensen said he particularly appreciates the tremendous support he’s received from Shirts.
“I don’t know the right words for how much Steve Shirts has done for me over the years, and especially over this school year,” Sorensen said. “He has been a mentor, friend, advisor, therapist, Coke-run buddy and so much more. There is no way I’d be here and thriving if not for him and his wife, Jill.”
The No. 4 seeded Cedar boys team is scheduled to play No. 13 seed Tooele at 7 p.m. Friday. Then, on Saturday night, the top-seeded Cedar girls will face No. 16 Mountain Crest at 7 p.m.
Should either or both of Cedar’s basketball teams win those second-round games, the players and fans can count on the CHS band making the trip up to Ogden for the 4A state quarterfinals, semifinals and finals Feb. 27-29.
“We travel with the team for both football and basketball playoffs whenever it makes sense, and we will be at the state basketball tournament at Weber State this year,” Sorensen said. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“One unique thing about Cedar High is that the student-athletes really appreciate the band, and the band really enjoys supporting, cheering and being that ‘sixth man,’” he added. “That’s not the case at most schools. It’s really gratifying to see that aspect of this community, and I love it.”
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