For 20 years, Sheryl Clark has been the band teacher at Harbor Ridge Middle School, introducing students to band while also playing her way around town — and around the world — with her saxophone.
Clark’s musical influence extends beyond the classroom: Little known to many in the community, Clark was the impetus behind the inclusion of musical acts in Gig Harbor’s annual Yo’ Ho’ Harbor Grande Parade, part of this weekend’s annual Maritime Gig Festival.
Returning to work at Harbor Ridge in the spring of 1997, Clark attended the parade, then in its first year, and was surprised to not see any musical acts.
There was not one musical event in the parade. I thought it was a shame. I told my neighbor, ‘this will be the last year there isn’t a band in the parade.’
Sheryl Clark, Harbor Ridge Middle School band teacher
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“There was not one musical event in the parade. I thought it was a shame,” she recalls. “I told my neighbor, ‘This will be the last year there isn’t a band in the parade.’”
Clark has kept her promise, leading the Harbor Ridge band in the parade for the past 20 years. For the first 10 years, they were the only band in the parade, she said.
“We would always win the best musical event because we were the only musical event in the parade,” she said with a laugh. “I always played it up for the kids.”
This year, Harbor Ridge will be joined by both Peninsula and Gig Harbor high schools, along with Key Peninsula Middle School, to represent the Peninsula School District. Lighthouse Christian Academy is among the other area schools which will also participate with a band in the parade.
The parade has grown over the years, according to Warren Zimmerman, president of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the Maritime Gig.
Last year’s parade saw 112 entries and 2,400 people participate.
“We started out kind of slow with bands ... (and) now we have a good representations of youth orchestras and bands,” Zimmerman said. “There’s other individual groups that have music as well.”
Among the musical acts include the Seahawks’ Blue Thunder Drum Band, which is sponsored by MultiCare, and a representative band from the local military that leads the parade, this year from the U.S. Army.
We started out kind of slow with bands ... (and) now we have a good representations of youth orchestras and bands. There’s other individual groups that have music as well.
Warren Zimmerman, Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce president
Participating in the parade and representing their school to the community has a positive effect on the students, Clark said, because to participate they learn discipline and are required to memorize the two songs they’ll play in the parade. This year the school will play “Jazz Police” and “Louie Louie.”
“Every year I make them memorize two songs. They never think they can do it, but it’s so good for them,” she said. “The kids get more energy. You always try to pick rhythmically fun songs.”
In years past, Harbor Ridge has played popular tunes that includes a song from the Indiana Jones movie series, “Eye of the Tiger” and the theme from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, playing to the parade’s pirate theme.
Along with representing the schools in the community through the parade, Clark is an advocate for music in the schools themselves, seeing students improve in other areas because of their music participation.
“The majority of kids that are involved in musical program have higher science and math scores, and it’s reciprocal,” she said. “Like memorizing the music, they’re thinking patterns. You’re combining the mental and the physical.”
Clark will also be performing herself during the Maritime Festival, with her group, Harbor Winds, prior to Sunday’s Blessing of the Fleet. She also plays jazz at MarKee every Sunday with fellow performer Jon Phillips.
Performing has been a part of Clark’s life since childhood, growing up in Gig Harbor and attending Vaughn Elementary, Goodman Middle School and Gig Harbor High.
Kids love to perform, they love to do this ... I’m not as disciplined as the high school. I call it marching band 101. My philosophy for middle school is to give them a lot of experience and get them hooked. You want them to enjoy music.
“I’ve played saxophone since I was 11,” she said. “I used to play jobs with my daddy at the Eagles club and the golf course and local events all around the area ever since I was a kid.”
With a classical degree from Western Washington in saxophone performance, Clark has toured Europe four times and is planning for another tour of Scotland and Ireland next year with a Tacoma-based concert band.
Sharing her passion for music with her students is one way that Clark gets her students engaged and her enthusiasm for her subject and the students themselves remains steadfast.
“Kids love to perform, they love to do this ... I’m not as disciplined as the high school. I call it Marching Band 101,” she said. “My philosophy for middle school is to give them a lot of experience and get them hooked. You want them to enjoy music. And they do play well, a lot of time they say we sound like a high school band. The more kids that are involved at the different levels the better. We have kids in their strollers to high school kids in the bands. It just gives it a really good hometown feel.”
The Maritime Gig Festival runs Saturday to Sunday (June 3 to 4) in Gig Harbor, with the Yo’ Ho’ Harbor Grande Parade is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.