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From tragedy to triumph: A community marching band formed after a shooting looks to wow crowds in Europe

Zachary Shelton.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Zachary Shelton, 11, plays tenor drum for the Sounds of Success Marching Band in Riviera beach. | February 2023

A community marching band in Riviera Beach is moving with a purpose — it was formed in honor of a student who was killed in 2018 shooting.

For its members, activities surrounding the band serve as a safe haven to study music and culture, receive math tutoring, and create synergy with students from various schools within Palm Beach County.

And now the Sounds of Success Community Marching Band could be headed to one of the top music performance events in the United Kingdom, offering an even more memorable opportunity for the kids with this trip.

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The band made a name for themselves at Battle of the Bands competitions throughout Florida. They often do music pop-up shows in low-income communities.

Sounds of Success is one of just seven bands invited to London Band Week in June. The predominantly Black, 85-piece band, is also one of just two groups from the United States to earn a spot in the line up.

But the members now need to raise enough money to make their dream a reality and show their skills in the UK.

At a recent practice, Antoine Miller, the music educator and founder of Sounds of Success, said "exposure to different cultures" is another educational tool he wanted to use to "expand their minds." He hones in on work ethic, too. For three hours, several days a week, students practice their musical instruments and choreography.

In the hot, open field at Riviera Beach Preparatory and Achieve Academy, young female dancers break sweat choreographing new moves. Another dance group, with members as young as five, are the tiny versions. And the drumline, the steady percussion part of the band, practices their tempo — the bass, tenor, and snare.

Other band members, from the trumpet to the trombone players, rehearse inside a facility, following instructors' lead — educators Troy Jonson and Nicole Chui. The practice is intense — each song, such as Michale Jackson's P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), is another challenge that requires team effort, focus, and consistency.

Miller, a former member of the acclaimed Florida A&M University’s Marching "100" Band, said his nonprofit empowers young people through music education and work ethic.

“It was started as a way to give the community something positive to engage in,” Miller said. “So I wanted people to call us something that pretty much manifests what we are. Sounds indicate what we do. We produce sounds. And success is what we are.”

The traveling band, also known as SOS Warriors, was started in 2018 after one of Miller’s students was shot and killed. After attending a candlelight ceremony, Miller said he was inspired to form a consistent, activity-based music program that could provide students an after-school space to explore their creativity, develop critical thinking, and form stronger bonds with their communities.

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Wilkine Brutus
Lakeisha Carter is a 16-year-old captain of the Sensational Goddesses, the majorette dance team for the Sounds of Success Community Marching Band in Riviera Beach | February 2023

And now the next step is for students, often from low-income families, to get exposed to different environments, different cultures and countries.

Sounds of Success is trying to raise $268,000 by March 1st. Organizers said it’s to help expedite passports, airfare costs, and other accommodations for the entire 85-piece band, which may include one parent accompanying their child on the trip. The community is donating at SOS's website.

Band members say the trip to England feels surreal. Lakeisha Carter, a 16-year-old captain of SOS’s majorette dance team, the Sensational Goddesses, is a student at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School. She said the trip would be her first time traveling abroad.

“I wasn’t expecting us to get seen like this,” Carter said. “I just hope everybody has a good time ... I just want a good experience because this is a once in a lifetime thing.”

Band members said there are other advantages to joining a Riviera Beach music group. Students said they enjoy SOS’s summer after-school programs, which offer free breakfast and other activities.

A relationship between music and mathematics

In Miller’s main office space, a big music keys chart hanging near small brass instruments illustrates the relationship between music and mathematics. The music, one student said, is a window into something much deeper than performing for audiences.

Zachary Shelton, 11, who plays tenor drum, said the extra time spent around classroom tutors and music instructors have elevated his math skills.

“It has impacted my life. I used to really struggle with math sometimes,” Shelton said. “When I need help, there are people actually here to help me with my math. So I really appreciated that.”

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Wilkine Brutus
Sounds of Success Marching Band instructors teaching band members at Riviera Beach Preparatory and Achieve Academy. Top photo: SOS Founder and band educator, Antoine Miller. Bottom photo: Music instructors Troy Jonson (left) and Nicole Chui (right) | February 2023

A University of Kansas study shows a strong link between the physical performance of music and math, as well as reading achievement. Shelton said the music education and travel opportunities keeps him focused in school.

“When I first joined the band, I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't really like it. I was like one of those stubborn, stuck-up kids. And then after actually giving it a try, I actually ended up falling in love with the band,” Shelton said. “The reason I'm still in the band is because we get to go places. We get to actually express ourselves at this place.”

Antoine Miller said “music is 100% fractions, and that's why I try to educate people on that.”

The band has an upcoming battle of the bands performance at Saint Thomas University on April 1st and a performance in Saint Petersburg in May but, as for now, their main focus is England.

Miller said the bulk of financing comes from public fundraising. It’s how the non-profit keeps expenses paid.

“We have to pay rent for the buses that we use to pick the kids up. We have to keep gas and we have to pay bus insurance each,” Miller said. He said it would be “extreme heartbreak” if they're not able to raise enough money. “But I have faith,” Miller said. “We have faith.”

Wilkine Brutus is co-host of the South Florida Roundup show and the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.