COOLIDGE  — Coolidge’s band program has a reputation for being “a little gem out in the middle of the desert.”

So says Coolidge’s new band instructor, Alex Lunardi, who was so enamored of the district’s reputation that he was convinced to move all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, to lead the program.

“I was told to apply for the position by Professor Chad Nicholson at UofA (Arizona),” Lunardi said. “He said it was a fantastic program, it got me really curious. I did research and saw the band has regional and national acclaim.”

Lunardi arrived in Coolidge after having taught elementary orchestra for over a year in Nebraska and was previously the conductor of the Kanesville Symphony Orchestra in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Lunardi has a master’s degree in instrumental conducting with a specialty in wind instruments.

Over the past several years the marching band has gotten at least second place in a number of regional competitions. Lunardi said the “big focus” would continue to be on that band, but he also hoped to grow the concert band program over the next several years. Lunardi described concert band as more geared toward classical music literature, but said the instruments are the same.

This year the marching band’s theme is “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and Lunardi will focus on the contrast between “tame, beautiful” sections of music versus “more rambunctious and angry elements.”

One big challenge for the program will be to bring on board more students. While at one point prior to the pandemic the high school band had over 100 members, Lunardi said it has been down to 32.

“I believe if we put forth a good sound product, and look good, more students will want to join us,” Lunardi said.

Currently the program includes a marching band class at the high school and a beginning/intermediate course for middle schoolers. Lunardi is also teaching guitar for the middle grades.

Lunardi said that the most important thing for the district’s band program is consistency in leadership, and he fully intends to provide that. Lunardi also praised the elementary school band teachers for their work and coordination to help facilitate a seamless transition for students through schools and band classes.

Lunardi said he would maintain the band’s very high expectations and standards, including practice requirements, but that students are up to the task.

“I think the kids have been fantastic,” Lunardi said. “They all show genuine curiosity in music and are excelling. It’s been really amazing how well they’ve adapted.”

Lunardi also said parents' willingness to help out with support and donating instruments has been monumental, providing flutes, clarinets and a trombone.

“I’m feeling welcome and like I’m fitting in,” Lunardi said. “There is a lot of pride in this city’s band program.”

The band will continue to play at football games — Lunardi said that Friday went “really, really well” — and will have their first show performance at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson on Sept. 25. October will be “Bandtober,” Lunardi said, with three competitions that month.

Those interested in helping the band by donating old instruments — Lunardi said the biggest need is for larger things like tubas and brass — that are in playable condition can contact Lunardi at Alexander.Lunardi@coolidgeschools.org.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.