Sumner High School Alum Reflects on Five Years of Sunset Festival of Bands

The unique band competition was conceived of by 2009 graduate Mason Longnecker as his senior project.

The unique band competition was conceived of by 2009 graduate Mason Longnecker as his senior project. (Courtesy photo)
The unique band competition was conceived of by 2009 graduate Mason Longnecker as his senior project. (Courtesy photo)

This October 26, Sumner High School, under the leadership of the Sumner Band Parents Association, will be hosting the Sunset Festival of Bands at Sunset Chev Stadium. 

The event, now in its fifth year, is an opportunity not only to showcase the talent of high school bands near and far, but as Class of 2009 founder Mason Longnecker describes, "I wanted the focus to be primarily about the students and making it an experience they would learn from but even more importantly, that they would absolutely love and want to return to in the following years."

According to parent volunteer Celia Bender, this year's competition features a full complement of 11 bands from all over the state - most of them returning:

  • Auburn Mountainview High School
  • returning 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012 participant
  • Bonney Lake High School
    • returning 2009, 2010, 2011 & 2012 participant
  • Chimacum High School
    • returning 2012 participant
  • East Valley High School (Spokane)
    • first time participant
  • Eisenhower High School
    • returning 2009 & 2010 participant
  • Enumclaw High School Hornet Marching Band
    • returning 2011 & 2012 participant
  • Klahowya High School 
    • returning 2010 participant
  • North Thurston High School Marching Band
    • returning 2012 participant
  • Sultan High School
    • returning 2011 participant
  • Sumner High School Spartan Marching Band
    • host band
  • Wenatchee High School Golden Apple Marching Band
    • returning 2012 participant

    And for the first time, organizers have divided the event into two divisions: Division I (under 50 members) and Division II (50 + members). Seattle Seahawks' Drumline BLUE THUNDER has also joined in the festivities each year and will be there this year as well, Bender said.

    The year's milestone is a particularly gratifying one for Longnecker, who conceived of the band competition as his senior project. Patch was able to catch up with Longnecker via email recently to find out more about the origins of his idea, what he's up to now and how the band experience continues to impact his life as a University of North Dakota student studying for his bachelor's degree in aeronautics in unmanned aircraft systems.

    How did you come about the idea of a festival of bands as a senior project? Were you involved in band?

    I became involved in band during my 6th grade year at Daffodil Valley Elementary School.  From there I remained involved in the Sumner Junior High Band and then onto the Sumner High School Band.  The idea for the festival was something myself and several other band members had talked about while traveling to other competitions.  We always discussed how we thought we could improve upon the festivals if we were to host one at our school.  This is where I began toying with the idea of starting a competition and in turn, deciding it would be my senior project.

    Were there other festivals you drew inspiration from? What was your vision for the festival (that it wasn't just a competition but an opportunity for feedback as well)? Or, how did you want to set it apart from other festivals?

    I don’t know that I drew inspiration from other competitions so much as figured out how I would want to do it differently.  To set my competition apart from the rest, I wanted the focus to be primarily about the students and making it an experience they would learn from but even more importantly, that they would absolutely love and want to return to in the following years. 

    Describe that first year. Who participated? What was the format like?

    The festival’s first year had 5 bands that attended. Sumner High School, Bonney Lake High School, Bainbridge Island High School, Auburn Mountainview High School, and Eisenhower High School (From Yakima).  The format was exactly as it is today in that each band has a preliminary performance after which they receive their judges feedback on the field, followed by the breaktime performance from the Blue Thunder Drumline, and lastly the competition phase where each band re-performs for a score and awards.

    What has your participation been like since you graduated? Do you come back yearly? What role do you play as an alumnus now?

    Since my graduation, I have tried to help from afar as much as possible.  At this point, I mostly offer advice and opinions, and review aspects such as the program, posters, etc. before they go to print.  As a student at the University of North Dakota I am unfortunately limited in what I can help with, however, I do return each year for the weekend of the festival to help with any and all ‘day-of’ aspects.  Ideally, I would love to end up back in Washington after my graduation to be able to step back in and assist with the event more but only time will tell.

    It's now in its fifth year. Did you have any idea or the desire to have the festival continue beyond your senior project? From your perspective, how do you think it's evolved? 

    I could not be happier that the event is celebrating its’ 5th anniversary this year.  It really is a dream come true for me.  My hopes and desires were that the event would become a yearly fundraiser for the Sumner High School Band program but I never thought it would have grown to be as popular as it is in such a short period of time!

    What's surprised you the most about the last five years of the festival? What's a cool piece of feedback you've received about it?

    I think what I’ve been surprised by the most over the last 5 years is the fast growing popularity of our Festival in comparison to the many well established competitions elsewhere in the state.  The coolest feedback I’ve received is hearing from the many bands that have attended, that their students voted hands down to return to our festival instead of ones they have participated in during past years.

    Where are you now in your own educational/professional career? How does the experience of band at Sumner affect how you approach things in your life now? 

    I am in my 3rd year of college at the University of North Dakota.  I am working on a Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics Degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems.  My experience in the Sumner Band Program taught me many things that carry over into many things I do and will continue to do.  Having honor and pride, and putting my full effort into everything I attempt is a big thing I learned during my band years.   Also, learning not to dwell on a failed attempt, but to instead get back up and try it again; this was a constant trend throughout band with learning new music and new instruments, as well as competing in the many competitions we attended throughout the year.

    While we're on milestones, next year marks band director Joe Carl's 25th year running the program. What can you say about your experience working with him first as a teacher and now as a peer as you continue to encourage young people in the program? 

    Mr. and Mrs. Carl are both such amazing people and educators.  They constantly pushed us to be the best we could be, not to win medals and trophies, but to sound good, and put on a wonderful show for our audiences.  Knowing that even if we didn’t receive a first place award in certain events, that we were still almost always the crowd favorite, was far more rewarding.  Mr. Carl was always extremely supportive of us and approached everything we did with the attitude that we would do it successfully.  Working with the Carl’s now on a peer level, I can see the influence they have on the students and the smiles on their faces and know they’ll never lose their touch.  Mr. Carl is all about the students.  Does he strive for perfection and push the band to get 1st place in everything they do? Of course! But he NEVER sacrifices the students’ or the crowds’ happiness to do so.  It makes the experience special, fulfilling, and above all, fun!

    Is there anything else you'd like to emphasis about the festival and/or the Sumner band program?

    Simply to reiterate the fact that while yes, the Festival is a fundraiser for the Sumner Band, it is first and foremost designed to be an educational and extremely fun event for the students and spectators.  Having the judges critique the band in front of the audiences is a chance for many parents and other spectators to hear a small taste of what their students are working towards and the different aspects that go into making their goals and dreams on the field come true.  I promised myself when starting this festival that it would always be about the students, not the money. And that we would not sacrifice the quality and experience we are providing because of cost.  There are events I attended as a member of the SHS Band that stand out as wonderful experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life, as well as events I will remember due to how much I disliked participating and I, as well as all of the parents and people involved in the Festival, want it to be something these students remember for positive reasons.

    Coming Up: Mason is not the only member of the Longnecker family who continues to support the Sumner High School band program. Mom Peggy Longnecker continues to support her son's vision for the Festival of Bands through the Sumner Band Parents Association even though her son has since graduated. Patch will bring you a Q&A with her next week.

    More Online: For more information, including ticket prices, visit www.sunsetfestivalofbands.org.


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