Band Family

Back row from left, Keri Hedman, Sierra Niedens, James Niedens, Director of Bands Kelly Berdahl, Kent Niedens, Tiffany Niedens, Tera Niedens and (front row) parents Bret and Lori Niedens pose for photo in the band room at Bozeman High School on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

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On Thursday evening, a Bozeman High School family’s tradition — spanning 8 children, countless meals and innumerable memories — will come to an end.

But the notes of dedication, investment and care will linger as the family leaves a legacy, along with a unique commissioned piece of music, with the school’s band program.

When Lori and Bret Niedens’ first child started in Bozeman High School’s band as a freshman, they didn’t know it would be a tradition carried on by their seven other children. The parents also didn’t expect they would become an integral family by volunteering their time and energy to support the band program for almost two decades.

The Berdahl family’s youngest child, Tiffany, marks the last of the eight children to participate in the high school’s marching band. As a senior, her final Bozeman High performance is scheduled for Thursday evening.

The concert will include performances by the freshman concert band, advanced concert band and the symphony band. Each student is allowed four guests, and the attendees for each band will have to leave the hall after that group is finished performing.

One of the pieces Tiffany and her fellow symphony band mates will perform on Thursday is a piece her parents had commissioned to honor the occasion, called “Pieces of Eight.”

The piece was composed by Gary Gilroy from Fresno State University. Three of the Niedens’ older children will return to Bozeman to play “Pieces of Eight,” alongside their sister and the symphony band.

The song reflects the Niedens’ unique history in the school’s music program and the dedication of every student and the families who support them.

The event is scheduled to start at 6 p.m., with the symphony band planning to begin at 8:30, and will be livestreamed for those unable to attend.

Unexpected family traditionTiffany was two when the oldest Niedens child was in the Bozeman High band. Before she was even in school, she was tagging along with the band while they visited all of the elementary schools in the district.

“I had birthdays here,” Tiffany said of the band room.

She also rode her first bike up and down the halls, her parents added with a laugh.

“I remember, when she was younger, how anxious she was to do marching band things,” said Kelly Berdahl, director of bands with Bozeman High. Berdahl has been the band teacher for all eight children.

While Bret said he doesn’t play an instrument, Lori has played the piano and previously dabbled in the cello. Before the family moved to Bozeman in 2003, the two eldest children were already playing instruments

“It was nice to have that, something they can merge into here since music is such a huge part of the Bozeman School District experience,” Bret said.

Bret and Lori said they noticed their eldest daughter, Tera, gained new friendships and confidence from her experience in the band.

“She was trying to fit in, trying to find her place, trying to realize who she is. And then she joins marching band,” Lori said. “By her senior year, she’s out there being a section leader and sharing that excitement.”

The parents have seen that continue as each of their children joined the band and progressed from freshmen to seniors. Bret said it taught them that they can do hard things and do it well.

“I have loved it for my kids. Especially when they had band camp, they would come into school two weeks before school starts. So by the time school started they had a group of people through all four grades that they knew,” Lori said.

Berdahl said the social and life skills component of performing in a band or music program are just as important as the actual music skills that are developed.

“Of course, we play music and we perform. But as teachers, we’re preparing kids to be citizens in our world,” Berdahl said.

Some of the Niedens are still actively involved in music. Their fifth daughter graduated from college and is now a music teacher outside of Montana.

Through the years, each of the eight children played a different instrument.

“We weren’t allowed to share instruments,” Tiffany joked.

Honoring the families

The Niedens said they decided to commission the song to honor the contributions and time of the families and volunteers who work behind the scenes.

Lori said the concept was to commission a piece from the perspective of band parents.

“We wanted to honor Mr. Berdahl and all of the parents that we have associated with over these years who put in so much time to help the program, help their kids,” Bret said. “It’s amazing, some of them gave us an example of parents who would continue on after their children graduated.”

Berdahl is quick to point out that includes the many years of volunteering the Niedens have put toward the high school’s band program. From hauling band equipment to performance spaces to building set pieces to large, industrial meal preparation, the Niedens have been an integral part of the Bozeman High band community, Berdahl said.

“We were not the first parents to be doing this. There is a huge, excellent cohort of parents throughout the years that have been participating,” Bret said.

Over the years, the Niedens took on the responsibility of feeding 120 to 180 people all meals for a three-day competition trip, complete with dessert trays. Berdahl estimates the Niedens were able to feed each student for $2.50 to $3 per student, a significant decrease from $8 to $15 per meal students would spend at a restaurant.

“They became the ultimate culinary crew,” Berdahl said.

Notes of Eight

Not only is the title of the commissioned piece a nod to the Niedens eight children, but Berdahl said the piece also creatively plays with notes and rhythms in groupings of eight.

On Thursday evening, Bret and Lori will sit in the darkened auditorium as Tiffany, her siblings and bandmates take the stage for one last performance as Bozeman High School marching band members.

For the first time, the Bret and Lori will hear a piece of music that began in 2003.

It’s a performance that was built on countless hours of practices, crowded vans loaded with equipment, weekend trips to compete around the region, baked goods and prepared meals.

The song tells the story not just of the Niedens but of every student and parent that has called the Bozeman High music program family.

Those notes of eight will echo on.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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