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‘Let’s get together and play some music’

Unity, neighborly love the themes

Godfrey-Lee, East Grand Rapids — What began as an idea for a concert collaboration between two school communities, evolved into something incredible. 

At more than 100 musicians strong, Lee and East Grand Rapids high school bands recently performed a concert side-by-side titled “United in Harmony,” a dedication to Ukrainian refugees. 

“We are the same community just a few miles apart,” EGR High School Band Director Jake Castillo said. “The kids came together and played great music. It was the most incredible concert I’ve ever done in my life.” 

Lee High School Band Director Kevin Gabrielse reached out to Castillo in December with the idea to bring their two bands together for a combined performance, months before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

“United in harmony was the goal all along,” Gabrielse said. “When you throw music in the mix, it binds us all together. It was an absolute home run; the kids loved it and were raving about it afterwards.”

EGR band director Mark Wells conducts at the ‘United in Harmony’ side-by side concert (courtesy)

The program opened with the Ukrainian National Anthem, followed by three pieces about unity and strength, and closed with a piece titled “Albanian Dance,” in honor of neighboring countries that are taking in Ukrainian refugees.

United in harmony was the goal all along. When you throw music in the mix, it binds us all together.’

– Kevin Gabrielse, Lee High School band director

Gabrielse said preparing music for the concert pushed his own teaching abilities and “pushed the envelope” for his students. 

“The world is so much bigger than our little band room,” he said. 

Castillo and Gabrielse credited both schools’ administration teams and music boosters for their support, and said they hope to continue to collaborate.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

After only a few rehearsals, the combined bands from Lee and East Grand Rapids high schools performed five songs together (courtesy)
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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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