It is an award that only those in the high school band fraternity know about, but among those dedicated professionals it is a really big deal. Casa Grande High School band instructor Arlene Burney has been awarded the John Philip Sousa Legion of Honor Award. Only eight band directors from the United States and Canada receive the honor each year.

Just to be nominated, band directors must have a tenure of at lest 20 years as a school band director with the greater portion of the time served at the same school; the director’s concert band program must have received a superior musical excellence status during his/her tenure; the director must have been active in local, state or national band organizations and have achieved a consistent pattern of superior awards at district, state, regional and/or national festivals or other adjudicated performances.

Burney received her award at the International Band and Orchestra Midwest Clinic held in Chicago in December.

Burney easily qualified for 20 years service, She has been working with high school bands for almost four decades starting in Santa Cruz in 1976. She has been at Casa Grande since 1995, taking over a program that had 48 students and building it into one of the most respected in the state with now more than 150 students.

Excellence doesn’t come without effort, and Burney has been willing to put in the effort for 39 years. “It takes a tremendous amount of work,” she acknowledges. “You have something going every single weekend. We are always going to festivals and competitions, and there is a tremendous amount of administrative work.”

Burney works with the jazz band, the concert band, the symphony band and a freshman band.

She puts in the work because it is a labor of love.

“I enjoy teaching the kids,” she explains. “I enjoy seeing the success they have achieved. I enjoy getting them started in something they can get life-long enjoyment from.”

She is quick to acknowledge that the success Casa Grande enjoys begins with music programs in the elementary and junior high schools, and notes that some of those programs have not recovered from the economic recession that forced cutbacks in all school districts. She points out that Petaluma City Schools have been able to restore their programs through bond measures, but the Old Adobe and Waugh districts, which feed Kenilworth Junior High and eventually Casa Grande, are still working on restoring programs in their schools.

But through good and tough financial times, one thing that has remained consistent is the quality of the Casa Grande High School band program led by a national award-winning director.