Aztec middle school band aims for national tour

Renee Lucero
The Daily Times
Shantell Evans, lead singer of The Imagine Band, sings during rehearsal on Tuesday in Aztec.

AZTEC — The school band has long been reserved for the drum line, flutes, trumpets and an occasional tuba.

But The Imagine Band is not your average school band.

The 11 members of the Koogler Middle School band made their debut Jan. 28 at the Aztec Senior-Community Center. The concert was the first show of The Imagine Band’s "Following Our Dream Tour."

"That was sort of a dress rehearsal," said Jim Kuzma, who is listed as the band’s producer and promoter and also teaches guitar classes at Koogler. "There were mostly family and friends in the audience, and we were trying out some new songs in a different lineup. But really, these kids have the goal of going on a national tour."

In just two years, the band — which started with students in Kuzma’s beginning, intermediate and advanced guitar courses — has grown both in number and in the size of the band's aspirations.

"The kids have a primary goal of signing a contract for a national tour," said Kuzma, who has played in bands since the 1970s. "Last year, (the students) wanted to know what it was like to be in a band. So I brought in a bunch of my gear, and we tried it out. That desire to be a band has never left. If they didn't have the desire, it would have fizzled out real quick. But I had a dream to be on tour once and I see that same dream in their hearts."

The Imagine Band rehearses on Tuesday in Aztec. The band is comprised of students from Aztec's C.V. Koogler Middle School.

The band has become a place where students like Preston Welch have flourished. The Koogler seventh grader is a stand-out performer, playing the guitar with the confidence of a seasoned rocker, despite playing for fewer than two years.

"(Welch) had a hard time for a long time. We had tried sports and finally we decided to try music because he liked to listen to music so much," said his mother, Autumn Gamett. "He started in beginning guitar a year and a half ago and moved on to intermediate and then advanced. For him to progress so much after never picking up a guitar is really incredible to watch but it's even better that he has found something he loves to do."

His father, Austin Elliot, agreed.

"(The band) really is amazing," he said. "It's not just an ordinary band. It's different. It allows the kids to be individuals and is a positive way for them to find their talents and showcase them."

Welch explained that while he liked football and other activities, playing guitar in The Imagine Band was his "ringer."

"I’m a horseshoe and the band is my ringer," he explained, referencing the game of horseshoes.

Kenzie Kannard, center, works on a song with Jim Kuzma, left, and Michael Stephens during The Imagine Band's rehearsal on Tuesday.

Perhaps the band's biggest fan on the road to rock-and-roll stardom is Principal Jessica Sledzinski, who attended the band's first performance on a Saturday night.

"This is not a typical school activity, but it's important for the kids to learn life skills," she said. "Perhaps the biggest life skill they are learning now is perseverance. They can't just say, 'Oh, I'm in a band.' They have to rehearse and practice, set up, tear down. They do everything. And that is relevant to being in the real world."

The Imagine Band has been booked for other appearances in the coming months. According to the show's program, they have a business manager, marketing director, producer and promoter and attorneys to oversee contract negotiations with venues.

They will  record their first album of original songs in March. The band plans to use the album as a sample for record labels and to get air time on local and national radio stations.

Renee Lucero is a freelancer writer for The Daily Times.