EAC Gila Monster Marching Band performs for the legislature

Contributed Photo/Courtesy EAC: The EAC Marching Band performed at the Arizona State Legislature on Jan. 9.

By Kris McBride/EAC

THATCHER – For the 40 students who make up the Eastern Arizona College Gila Monster Marching Band, a recent trip to Phoenix is an occasion they will never forget.

On Jan. 9, the marching band – founded before Arizona achieved statehood – performed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “God Bless America” at the opening session of the Arizona State Legislature. They also performed outside the Capitol prior to the opening ceremonies and appeared on ABC 15 as EAC President Todd Haynie discussed the importance of community colleges in Arizona.

EAC Video/EAC Marching Band at Arizona State Capitol

As the state’s only community college marching band, as well as the oldest, the students’ visit to the capital city continues a long musical tradition at Eastern Arizona College.

“Music has always been important at EAC,” said Geoff DeSpain, EAC professor and marching band director. “We are known far and wide for our outstanding programs that give students the chance to shine in the spotlight and prepare them for advanced studies at top universities.”

Chartered in 1888, EAC is Arizona’s oldest community college. Shortly after its founding, a small group of musicians came together to form the marching band. The exact year the band was founded is uncertain, but they have been playing for over a century. In 1912, they performed the national anthem during a day-long event called the Musical Convention of the Gila Valley; in 1930, we know the band was also made up of 40 students.

“The students come to EAC from all over the place and they have an immediate family,” said DeSpain. “They feel comfortable to come in and just be part of the band, and they make friendships that last a lifetime.”

The students in today’s band represent a cross-section of Arizona and share a passion for music. They include Nathan Clement, of Willcox, and Andrew Flores, of Safford.

“It’s a little scary, but it’s a big honor and I’m looking forward to it,” Clement said about performing at the legislative session opening. “This is my first semester at EAC and I’ve made so many friends from all over the state.”

Contributed Photo/Courtesy EAC: The EAC Marching Band stands outside the Arizona State Capitol.

According to Flores, being a member of the EAC Gila Monster Marching Band opens doors to many opportunities. “Last month, we represented Arizona at the Pearl Harbor Memorial Parade in Hawaii. Today we’re representing the state at the legislative session. Being a part of the band is truly an honor.”

DeSpain pointed out that this was the third year the band was chosen to perform at the opening of the legislative session. “We’re very lucky to get the invitation, and the kids are so excited to be here.”

For the performance, band members displayed their hometown district numbers so their legislators could meet with them and hear how state funds have helped change their lives.

“It was an incredible experience,” said DeSpain. “We truly appreciate our legislators and what they do to help our students achieve their dreams.”