Band working to say Sayonara, we’re going to Japan


By Sarah Sharp

Members of the Blaine High School wind ensemble are mowing, scrubbing, babysitting, weeding and dog walking their way to Japan.

Band parent Mary Lou Kelly calls it Blaine’s version of “Dirty Jobs.”

“Someone has to do it – why not us? BHS band kids know how to get it done and they are looking for work! Truly the nicest, most hardworking kids you could hope to hire. Big or little jobs – we can help.”

Her latest Facebook post reveals the band’s continued efforts to offset the $3,000 needed for each student and chaperone to travel to the prestigious Funabashi Music Festival in February 2017.

“Japanese band directors marvel at the fact that we have to do this,” band director Bob Gray said. “But honestly we have families who can’t open the checkbook and pay $3,000 to make this happen for their kids, so we’re trying to organize fundraising efforts so they can earn their way.”

Their upcoming trip marks the fifth time Blaine High School has been the only United States school band invited to perform at the Japanese festival. The first invitation came in 2003.

“We were honored, and after we played we were somewhat humbled,” Gray said. “We thought, if we ever have a chance to come back, we’ll come back even more prepared.”

That might mean a few more rehearsals along the way, but the students know what they’re getting into, he said.

By now, there’s an understanding among the band that they must each earn their ticket to Japan – and while the fundraising efforts of 50 students aren’t likely to touch $150,000, their strivings serve another purpose: strengthening character.

“This has totally inspired our students and changed for the better our band program,” Gray said. “Our younger kids know that we’ve taken the trip to Japan and they want to take the trip, and more than that, the older kids come back with a more developed work ethic.”

During their visit, pairs of students stay with Japanese host families, where they are immersed in a new culture.

For Gray, that’s the big takeaway. He’s seen former students go on to make their careers in teaching English in Japanese schools or joining the Peace Corps – all because of a high school band trip.

“I’m not really exaggerating when I say for the most of the kids we’ve brought, it’s changed them permanently, in terms of seeing the world with a broader set of eyes, and maybe more open arms, I’m hoping,” he said.

In addition to accepting individual and group work, the band will host several fundraising events through the year, including an ongoing estate sale, a golf day at the Dakota Creek Golf Course and an all-ages dance with popular Bellingham band The Atlantics.

For now, the countdown to Japan is on.

For more information about employing BHS band students, call Mary Lou Kelly at 360/332-1617. To donate, contact Dorita Gray at

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