CRESTVIEW — For most college students, December means final exams and returning home for the holidays. For five Crestview High School alumni, it also means being able to play music with their friends.
Jacob Cyrus, Brenden Mears, Quinn Stegner, Ethan Mitchell and Sean Gabany make up the Dynamic Shades — a group of musicians who perform Christmas carols for their community each year.
But instead of singing like carolers normally do, they carry a tuba, saxophone, trombone and clarinet door to door a few nights in December to perform holiday songs with instruments.
“It was kind of all of our idea,” Cyrus said. “We had chemistry together our sophomore year, and we all sat by each other, and it was just kind of an idea.”
The group of friends, who were all part of Crestview High’s marching band and graduated at the top of their class, played at the city’s annual fall festival in 2014. The owners of Casbah Coffee Company heard the students performing, and invited them inside to play for customers.
A couple months later, one of their mothers suggested also performing Christmas carols. They jumped on the idea.
“We were like, ‘Hey, that was a lot of fun. Maybe we can do something else,’” said Gabany, the band’s manager. “Plus it was different, we wouldn’t be singing. We can’t do that.”
The Dynamic Shades — dressed in black suits, each with a different color tie, and sunglasses perched atop their Santa hats — received positive feedback from the families they visited the first year.
“We realized that this is something different that just we were doing,” Stegner said. “And it’s a lot of fun just to share that with each other. It kind of became our thing over time.”
The tradition started with two nights of caroling, then three, and last year they did four. This year, the Dynamic Shades went caroling five nights and branched out into different communities. On the last night of their 5th year, they came back to Casbah to perform where it all started.
“It’s a joy for us to welcome them here,” said Casbah owner Bill Toannon. “We’re so fortunate to have them again.”
In November, they start planning by first picking a range of dates and where to go. Some people message the band's Facebook page requesting they come to their house.
“We’ve gotten better at planning each year,” Mears said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s so much fun.”
When they started, the Dynamic Shades used Christmas music from the high school band. But they said it wasn’t arranged for their specific talents.
“This year we decided that we’re tired of playing the same old five or six songs, so we would get Ethan to arrange it for us," Mears said.
In August, they put a poll on their Facebook to pick the top 10 holiday songs. Then Mitchell, a music education major, started arranging the music.
Balancing school, jobs, internships and music is tough, they all agreed, but it’s all worth it. While they sat in Casbah for their final performance of the season, the boys remembered the emotional experiences they’ve had over the years.
They’ve performed for a particular Crestview family for the last four years. Last year, their elderly mother was bedridden and unable to come to the door, so they came to her.
They thought that might be her last year, but were excited to see that wasn't the case when they returned earlier this month. When her foot tapped to the music, it was hard to hold back tears, they said.
“It’s humbling," Stegner said. "This little thing that we started doing for fun has turned into something that’s actually important to people and their families.”
Although they all went off to different colleges across the southeast, they look forward to gathering together each year. And they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“We’ve branched out more, because we’ve been growing individually,” Stegner said. “Now this is something that really keeps us together and something we can come back to. And we want to share this with more people.”
They’re not sure where life will take them when they graduate college and start their careers. But they hope to continue this tradition. And if nothing else, they hope to inspire others to start a similar custom.
“The key thing is, we are a band, but we’ve been really good friends for a long time,” Mitchell said.
“We have a great time doing this, and we love it,” Gabany added. “We are so happy and so blessed to find that people enjoy letting us have fun with them.”