On Friday, February 1, the Clock Tower was filled to capacity with guests who look forward each year to one of the top fundraisers for the middle school and high school band programs.
Along with all-you-can-eat crab, the evening reminded one of stepping into a dinner club of the past. Complete with refined attire and shining brass, the elegant orchestra staging alluded to an era where upbeat music wove its way through dinner conversation, making it difficult to sit still. Besides just the top-notch jazz music, there was a silent undertone of symbolism running through the evening.
All music was live, provided by the jazz bands from the middle and high schools. Since most of the high school families ‘graduated’ from the middle school band program, there were reminders everywhere of beginnings and endings, and mostly, a precious shared legacy.
For instance, Mr. Glenn Walp, who is the Music Director at the middle school, had two jobs that night. His main duty was to conduct his student jazz band. But it was his second job that kept him hopping. He filled in as keyboardist for the high school, under the musical direction of Mr. Patrick Martin. As the bands alternated their performances, Mr. Walp would conduct the middle school band in one area, and then dash over the stage to the high school band. There, he would read music he had not seen until that moment, and accompany the band on his keyboard. This pattern lasted for almost four hours.
Several parents, especially Victoria Schneider, were struck by this physical embodiment of what the band programs are all about. She noticed how he represented the whole purpose of the evening, which was the feeling that both programs share so much together, including long history and many memories. “It isn’t just anyone who can step into an established band at the last minute, and be accepted. But these high school kids always have a place for Mr. Walp, so that he can just seamlessly join them.” He is part of them even when they move on to the high school, and his presence reconnects them to their middle school roots.
In fact, when the high school band was asked how they did that night, one member replied, “We were really happy with how we performed. We sounded so much better than we did during some practices.” When asked what magical thing happened that night, one musician said, “Mr. Walp happened,” referring to his keyboard work.
The music was polished and ‘spot-on’ for both groups. In fact, one of the security guards thought he was hearing a piped-in recording from a CD. When told it was indeed a live band comprised of school students, he entered the hall to see for himself. He told parent Bryan Haynes he was in disbelief.
Nights like this are the result of hundreds of hours of preparation by the musicians as well as the parents and volunteers. It is such a large event, that two chairpersons are needed. Leslie Blackie represented the high school, and Erin Biber represented the middle school. Prior to that night, there was heavy student and parent involvement which began in the early fall planning stages. During the event, there was also a significant presence throughout set-up, serving and clean-up. The younger students were paired with older students, bonding the two school programs which allows smooth transitions as they pass through the school years. Younger band siblings were also assigned jobs.
Leslie Blackie was so moved by the big picture of the night. “The younger siblings aren’t even in band yet, but they are part of the band family.” She was struck by several key moments of the evening. One was when the high school band gave an ovation to the middle school 6th grade drummer after his solo. Another was how the middle school musicians would run over to throw tips in the bucket after the high school played, with the favor being returned by the high school.
This is why she is involved in this event, and why so many parents put in large amounts of time. Both band directors foster many life-skills in their programs. Not only is music the great unifier, but band programs provide so many gifts beyond music which are felt throughout an entire lifetime.
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