More than 150 students in the Mira Costa High School band program are heading to Washington D.C. in April for two prestigious events. To help raise funds for the trip, the band hosts a Send Off Concert and fundraiser, Friday, March 20, at the school's auditorium.

The marching and concert band was invited to perform at National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade and “The President's Cup” National High School Concert Band Festival. The March 20 fundraiser, which will help cover some costs associated with travel, will feature repertoire prepared for each event.

Band director Joel Carlson, who marched with his future wife as members of the Thousand Oaks High School Lancer Band and Colorguard in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in 1999, said Mira Costa is the only band to represent California in both events.

“I hope that this is a program that not just our parents can be proud of and our school community, but indeed the greater Manhattan Beach community, even the beach cities themselves,” Carlson said.

“Not only do we represent the South Bay, but also our whole state. So we want something our community can really be proud of and know that there will be some wonderful music that everybody will be able to enjoy on the 20th. We'll have both our concert ensembles as well as our jazz band and are marching band and color guard and performance that evening.”

The President's Cup is a invitation only, adjudicated festival for high school wind ensembles that takes place April 2 and 3, at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia. Music programs are invited to spend the day with retired and active duty military musicians. The festival day includes a clinic and instruction by clinicians and adjudicators and ends with a feature concert by the United States Army Band “Pershing's Own.”

The Cherry Blossom Festival Parade takes place on April 4, along the landmarks of Constitution Avenue. According to Carlson, Mira Costa will be conducting press interviews live on Facebook that day and then will be broadcast on ABC-7 on Saturday, April 25, at 7 a.m.

Carlson said the bands will perform in front of “sophisticated set of ears” including adjudicators who are high school or collegiate directors, and in case of the festival, musicians and directors of the top bands of the U.S. military that “oftentimes produced about 50 percent of the nation's professional orchestral musicians.”

“It's always wonderful to listen to so many other groups and to support them and to be supported by them in the audience,” Carlson said. “In this case, we get to go and perform alongside some of the best in the nation. We are really thankful to be able to offer that to our students who oftentimes will write their college essays about some of their experiences at some of these elite performance opportunities like Carnegie Hall, winning a Grammy Award.”

Senior Dexter Brown, Student President of Bands, has been in bands in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District since grade school as well as all four years at Mira Costa.

“We've been preparing all year for it and every part of the band is going so we're super excited,” said Brown, who is in the jazz band, marching band, pit orchestra, as well as other bands. “This is the first trip that I've taken at least, where the jazz band, the marching band, and all three of the classical bands are going to the same event.”

Brown first picked up the cello in third grade, but soon had a change of heart.

“The first time I played the saxophone in the music store, when I was just a fourth grader, it really spoke to me and I just really enjoyed playing it,” Brown said.

Brown added, “My dad (Chris) played piano and went to Berklee College of Music. So I've been listening to jazz before I picked up the saxophone, and that really inspired me to keep playing.”

Aside from performing on such a large stage, Brown said he is excited to see the sites of Washington D.C. for the first time while the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

“(I have) This vision of us turning onto the street with cameras, thousands of people in the audience, pink and white blossoms just all around us,” Brown said. “And then we get to see the Capitol Building right next to us. It's just gonna be totally amazing. And everyone's just gonna be playing our hearts out to the audience.”

Tickets for the March 20 concert are $10, but students, staff and veterans are free.

To purchase tickets or to donate, visit

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