California State FFA band is a brotherly tradition


Stephen Land first fell in love with music and band as a second grader watching his older brother Garrett perform and take private music lessons. He even took after his brother, starting out with the trumpet in fourth grade, but soon moved into playing the alto saxophone.  Now a senior at Granite Hills High School in Porterville, California, Stephen is following in his older brother’s footsteps once more as he prepares to perform in the California State FFA Band in front of an estimated 8,000 attendees next week during the state FFA convention in Anaheim.

“I had seen my brother perform in 2016 and I am honestly excited to be able to make it a family tradition and perform in the band,” Stephen said.

Music is not only a family tradition for the Land brothers, it’s an area both excel at.

Garrett, who is currently attending Porterville College, was recently selected to tour with the Golden Empire Drum and Bugle Corps around the state of California as well as attend Drum Corp International Championships in Indianapolis this summer. Garrett spends eight hours every weekend practicing for the Golden Empire and estimates he will be up to eight hours daily by the end of May. Since he first picked up the trumpet in fourth grade, Garrett has expanded his instrumental talent to playing baritone, flugal horn, concert baritone, cymbals, concert bass drum, gong, and brake drum. Baritone is his favorite. 

“I enjoy music and like to see others enjoy it and appreciate it,” Garrett said.

Little brother Stephen is just as committed to music. Like Garrett, Stephen also went on to play several instruments including the tenor saxophone, the bari-saxophone, concert bass, gong, suspended cymbal, and brake drum. Prior to joining the state FFA band, he put in one-and-a-half hours of practice daily during class and anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours per day after. Now as he prepares for the upcoming state performance, he has been practicing several pieces of music an hour a day on his bari-saxophone. Once Stephen gets to Anaheim, he will join the rest of the members of the California FFA state band for an eight-hour practice in preparation for the three-day event.  

But while the Land brothers may seem like musical prodigies, their talent doesn’t just stop there.

Stephen is a four-year member and goalie of the varsity water polo. He earned the MVP award his senior year and was listed in the top 20 in the nation for water polo goalie. He was also a four-year member of the high school varsity golf team. In addition to high school marching band and jazz ensemble, Garrett took in two years of baseball, two years of track and field, and four years of cross country.

All of this was on top of competing in agricultural projects and showmanship in FFA. While Stephen and Garrett didn’t grow up on a farm, their passion for ag stems from their time on their grandparents’ farm.

“I truly enjoyed working at my grandfather’s house and learned to drive his tractor there,” Stephen said. “The animals we helped to raise there encouraged me to raise my own animals.”

Stephen, who is currently raising a rabbit meat pen for the Porterville Fair and looking for prospective buyers or add-ons to help him towards earning his American Farmer Degree, has been active in animal FFA projects. While raising a hog his first year, he had the privilege of assisting a developmentally delayed student with his market hog two years before he graduated. 

“He placed in showmanship and had a great experience,” Stephen said. “I was asked to help him the second year immediately after his first experience showing his market hog. It was a great experience for me also.”

As for his future career aspirations, Stephen is not planning on following his brother in music this time, but instead is choosing a path in ag.

“I want to go into the agricultural field and become an ag teacher. That way I can teach other students about all the exciting things they can do and learn not only with animals, but with plants and other aspects of agriculture, including farming and having orchards,” Stephen said. “I have had a wonderful time in FFA learning about agricultural and this is because of my teachers.”

Whether the brothers were performing in band, playing sports, or showing animals, they said their number one supporter has been their mom, Denise.

“She is always there for us, cheering us on, encouraging us, and making sure we got where we needed to be,” Stephen said. “It was also her encouragement that helped me to choose to try for the State Band again. I tried in 2016 but was not selected. I know she is proud of my brother and I and our accomplishments.”

“My mom has always been there for my brother and I, supporting us with both our educational and musical experiences and endeavors, and is our number one fan during our performances, all of our sporting events, and our FFA projects and showing,” Garrett said.

And the brothers have continued to support each other.

While Garrett did not pursue joining the National FFA band his freshman year of college, he said he is going to encourage Stephen to continue and go all the way.

It’s something Stephen hopes will come true.

“I truly would like to perform at the National FFA convention and I will be researching how to do that while I attend the State convention,” Stephen said. “It is my hopes that I will attend the National Convention not only as a band member, but as an FFA member earning my American Farmer Degree, which can only be earned within the one year after high school graduation.”

While joining FFA band may get overlooked, both Garrett and Stephen said it’s something FFA members should consider.

“It is a great learning experience and allows you to meet new FFA members, build friendships, and contacts that you keep well after the convention,” Stephen said. “Being a member of the band allows you to experience different instructors and types of music that you may not play at the high school band level.”

“Participating in the FFA band will provide an experience performing before a very large audience,” Garrett said. “It will also enable you to meet new people to form friendships and future career contacts, learn different styles of music from a different instructor(s), along with a fast pace learning experience unlike regular high school band.”

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