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Boys Town: Over 100 Years of Music Making

Father Flanagan and Band

"I like to think of music as being the language of the soul. It reveals to us truth and beauty beyond the power of words to describe. Music goes beyond the barriers of race, creed or geography. It is a spiritual medium of mutual fellowship for all people."-Father Edward Flanagan, Boys Town Founder

Music was something that was near and dear to Father Flanagan's heart. He also believed that music was a positive hobby for children to participate in. After he founded Boys Town in 1917, he immediately began to organize a musical program for the boys.

In 1921, Father Flanagan invited Dan Desdunes, a well-known African American musician and civil rights advocate, to lead the Boys Town Band. Desdunes was the key part in starting Father Flanagan's Boys Show which traveled by horse-drawn wagon to communities across the Midwest to sing, dance and perform in  hopes of raising donations and awareness for Boys Town.

Though the Boys Town students no longer travel by horse or train to display their musical talents, a lot of amazing work is still happening on Boys Town's campus through the Boys Town High School Music Program.

Currently the program is being led by three passionate Boys Town individuals who have dedicated their life's work to music and youth: Sierra Sanchez, Vocal Music Director; John Mayo, Music Teacher and Cynthia Miller, Music Accompanist.

"The Village of Boys Town has been such a life-changing experience. Being a part of a community that puts the youth as the center of its focus makes my job rewarding. There is no place like Boys Town, they have become family," said Sierra.

The program offers a wide range of courses including band, jazz, choir, guitar, instrumental lessons, history of rock and music technology.

This year, for the first year, Boys Town started a Tri-M chapter which is an honor society that is part of the National Association for Music Education, where the focus is on creating future leaders in music education and advocacy.

Every year Boys Town recognizes students who are excelling in their musical achievements. They give out the National School Choral Award, which is the highest honor for high school choral performers. This award goes to top male and female student. In addition, Boys Town also gives out the annual John Phillip Sousa Band Award® which recognizes the top student in the high school band. Both of these awards are accompanied by a scholarship for the receiving student.

The music program isn't just about being the best or earning college scholarships, for many it is the student's way of life and an outlet for them to cope with their wretched past.

"Boys Town is about helping youth change for the better, in music our youth is receiving healing to the soul. Our students make connections to the songs in ways that can't be done in other places," said Sierra.

The Music Program continues to grow and make positive changes in the lives of the youth here. The music director would love to see the music technology class continue to grow in the recording department, as it is the first year for this on campus.

The music program is over 100 years old and going strong, but at Boys Town we believe there are always areas we can aim to improve. With hard work from the faculty, ambition from the students and generous donors the future is sounding bright.