The Band of the West is the only sea cadet band in the United States. Six Burlingame High students play with the band: Lilli Hirth, Madison Kong, Verona Teo, Vanessa Teo, Ella Tarara, and Madelyn Tarara.
Band of the West is a unit of the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, which is a youth program sponsored by the Navy that teaches “leadership, musicianship, basic seamanship, courage, self-reliance, and discipline,” according to the band’s official website. The musicians travel all across the country and have recently performed in Washington D.C. at the World War II memorial, at Fleet Week upon the SS Jeremiah O’Brien and at veterans’ homes. Frequently at these performances, Band of the West members meet well-known and respected military figures.
“In late September, we had a performance where there were three medal of honor recipients,” Hirth said. “The year before that… there was an astronaut. We’ve also met members of Seal Team 6.”
Sisters Vanessa and Verona Teo and sisters Ella and Madelyn Tarara have participated for under a year while Kong joined almost two years ago. Hirth has been a member for almost four years, and recently won the Daughters of American Revolution Outstanding Cadet Award.
To be accepted into Band of the West, applicants must pass a physical examination, have their musical skills assessed by the the music instructor and pay a small fee to be issued uniforms. During both practices and performances, musicians must observe a military dress code and follow a strict code of conduct.
“We’re sponsored by the Navy, so we get money from them and we follow their guidelines and regulations,” Hirth said. “We also wear their uniforms, which means that we have to act very professional while we’re drilling and practicing and performing.”
The band has more to offer than music. After attending a two week boot camp, Sea Cadets are allowed to participate in trainings, which many members consider to be one of the highlights of being in Band of the West.
“There are music trainings, officer trainings, all kinds of different options,” Verona Teo said. “I’m really excited for those.”
Hirth went to a week-long session of marksmanship training last summer, and considers it one of her favorite experiences as part of the band.
“I knew nobody there going into it, but, at the end, I felt like they were all my best friends and we all had so much fun,” Hirth said.
The students also spoke highly of the Band of the West community, where they can interact with peers who share their passion for their country and for music.
“When I first joined, everyone was like a mentor,” Kong said. “They give you advice about how to be a better musician and how to hold yourself to a higher standard.”
“I really enjoy meeting new people,” Verona Teo said. “Everyone in Band of the West is really fun, and everyone has this common interest in playing music, and getting better, and serving people, and it’s amazing.”
Band of the West practices from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays in Redwood City, and they have an upcoming performance at the Golden Gate National Cemetery on Veteran’s Day. You can find more information here.