TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — You hear the music before you see it, as it usually goes with marching bands. The distinct bellows of tubas, melodies of flutes and pounds of the drums waft through the air during a Thursday afternoon rehearsal of the Big Red Marching Band before you can make out the glint of the silver and brass.
But the Big Red is in need of big money.
“No one really thinks about the lack of musical funding when they think of a lack of funding,” explained Tanisha Taneja, during a break in the marching band’s practice.
When voters nixed the Hillsborough County Public Schools’ millage in August, they also nixed funding for programs like the band.
For years, the band has been dealing with cracking and breaking drums, dented tubas, rusting trumpets and flutes and a gong without wheels.
“From all the instruments I’ve seen at Hillsborough,” Taneja said. “There’s some instruments where the keys don’t even work.”
Taneja is a senior at Hillsborough High School and drum major for her third year in a row. She’s taking it upon herself to raise money for new instruments through her, “Make Music Today” initiative.
“A lot of our members of our marching band play on broken instruments or cracked instruments,” Taneja said. “It’s essentially a barrier for them to get to a higher level or pursue a higher music career.”
Standing on her perch, waving her arms as she directs the nearly 100-student ensemble, she sees the brass is shinier on the other side.
“Oftentimes when we see other bands with all this fancy equipment and all these resources, it’s a little demotivating,” Taneja said. “But also, I think we’re doing the best we possibly can with the resources we have.”
Taneja’s already raised more than $5,000 through a GoFundMe, and performed at various venues to raise money as well. She’s distributing $1,000 each to Hillsborough and four other local schools — Band Director Jonathan Sims couldn’t be more excited.
“To be able to actually see it come to fruition now, and actually, tomorrow, have something that she worked on to really get for us, her legacy will be here long after she leaves,” Sims gushed. “I think that is absolutely amazing.”
Oct. 21 is the Terriers’ Senior Night, one of their biggest performances of the year. They’re getting wheels on the gong just in time too — a small but important step forward.
“We do get some money from our district every year, as does every other school in the country,” Sims said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not enough to fund a program of 90.”
Sims arrived at Hillsborough more than three years ago, and saw how off-key the instrument situation was.
“The big instruments: the tubas, the euphoniums, the trombones,” Sims said. “Those only get replaced once every five, six, sometimes 10 or more years.”
His plan for any more money raised is to build out the percussion section, then go from there.
Like any good leader, Taneja is keeping the faith.
“All of our students are really motivated, so despite the financial hardships, I think we’re still pushing through everything and we’re still trying our best,” Taneja said. “Most importantly, I think everyone’s having fun.”