FORTVILLE – The silver, gold and bronze color of their new instruments shone bright in the late afternoon sun as the Mt. Vernon High School marching band practiced for this season’s contests.

The sound crisper. The formations fuller.

Participation in the band program at the high school has swelled in recent years; during the 2014-15 school year, 59 students participated in the marching band. This year, 104 are involved, an approximately 76 percent increase, said band director Derek Ellinger.

The entire band program, which also encompasses the jazz and concert bands, has also seen a 27 percent enrollment increase.

School officials credit the membership spike to support from the entire school community — including the recent purchase of professional-grade instruments — and the band’s successful past seasons.

Last school year, the school board spent approximately $247,500 to purchase 80 new instruments and install an observation tower that now stands on the blacktop where students practice and helps secure tight formations.

Ellinger has no doubt the new equipment has contributed to some of that increase – students see the support the school gives to the program. But the program has also seen much success since Ellinger started directing it three school years ago. Recently, the program was honored with the Indiana State School Music Association’s All-Music Award after receiving top honors for overall program success.

Couple the band’s success with the passion band students share with their classmates, and it’s no surprise there’s more participation, Ellinger said.

Just in the last week, more students signed up to participate. But he can’t take all the credit for the program’s success — every day, his students improve, he said. They’re dedicated and welcoming to others. They take pride in the program, he said.

Professional-level instruments, which produce crisper sound than beginner-level instruments, are just the icing on the cake, he said.The school board purchased an entire drum line as well as woodwind and brass instruments.

The band used a hydraulic lift before the observation tower was purchased. Now, the program boasts safer equipment similar to what larger schools use, Ellinger said.

Senior band member Gavin Stamper guesses more students are joining the band because of the support the school has given the program.

There’s more hype about band now than when he was just getting started, which is making his senior year the best yet, Stamper, a member of the marching, concert and jazz bands who plays french horn, said.

“It’s always been a family, and it feels like the family is growing,” Stamper said. “This year is going to be great.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or