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Side By Side With The Panther Band

Musical "Petting Zoo" invited people of all ages to be a musician for the day.

It’s always a pleasure to find new ways to introduce music to the community, especially to those who may not have the same musical opportunities as others.  Whether the reasons include not having the time or the chance to try out an instrument, or never having considered one at all, people of all ages explored their options at the first year of TryTunes, held on May 19th at Benicia High School.  

The Panther Band program sponsored the event, with the generosity of Benicia Fabrication and Machine, and instruments loaned by ABC Music.  Spear-headed by the inspiration and vision of Janice Bross, a band parent, the event was in the planning stages since 2011.  Booster parents and high school band members provided musical instruction.  The Color Guard shared their flags and rifles for anyone to try.  Band members even took a stab at instruments other than their own.  They laughed as they were instructed by their fellow band members, but gained a new respect for each other’s abilities. There were raffles and cupcakes, with the day ending in a free concert where the guests shared in appreciating what an instrument can do.  It was received so well, the committee is already planning next year’s event. 

Several of the committee members, who are also devoted band parents, shared their thoughts.

Committee Chair Janice Bross, said, “The positive energy was remarked upon by participants and volunteers. You could feel it when you walked through the entire event.  The small kids were not intimidated by the high school students, and looked at them with admiration.  They played with a concentration I wouldn't expect from a three or four year old. One girl, who was trying to play a saxophone almost as big as she was, got a huge smile when she finally made a sound.  All the high school students helping her had cheered.  During the Symphonic Band concert, another little boy pretended to play along, playing "air” trumpet, drum and trombone. One man appeared to be there on his own, and told me he couldn't believe he actually could play some chords on a guitar.”

She continued, “I moved to Benicia for its sense of community and because it is a great place to raise a child. Yesterday, I felt that the Panther students and committee made Benicia a welcoming and wonderfully musical community for all who came.”

The band members “not only put a smile on a child's face, but they contributed to an event that will resonate in someone's life well past Saturday,” said committee member, Cindy Pappas.

Committee member and band parent, Shawn Walker said, “Watching the band students share their love of music and the joy of performing was a thrill. I also enjoyed watching and hearing remarks from the parents of the kids trying out the instruments. A lot of them would clap when their child made a note come from the instrument.  I was thinking, ‘boy if they are happy to see that, wait until they see their kid perform!’  Then, some of the kids would look up at mom/dad with one of those proud faces and it was a ‘this is why we did this’ moment for me.”

Trisha DeCosta, booster parent, said, “I loved watching all the little faces light up when a teenager handed them an instrument, got down to their level and showed them how to play. The first time a little one made a sound and realized it was them, there were smiles from ear to ear. The band students were excited when they realized they just taught this little person to play music. Even the adults learned a thing or two. My husband and I tossed a rifle. The Color Guard members make it look so easy and it is not. Watching it all gave you goose bumps.”

For Leslie Blackie, a band parent who provided some folk instruments from her own collection, “It was a privilege to be able to share our love of music with people who wanted to try an instrument.  It was thrilling to see their faces as they made sounds come out of it, their concentration as they listened to how it was played and the sheer joy when they made music. The concert was a wonderful mix.  The zaniness of the wedding band doing dance moves while they performed really showed the fun you have with music.  It was a great opportunity for the Panther Band to share their love of music with the community by helping people to make music themselves. I can't wait to do it again next year!”

The Panther Band members also had a strong reaction to their time spent that day.  Matt Johnston, a senior, said, “I felt nostalgic. I was seeing myself being taught something basic like this, way back into my childhood, as I was teaching a girl in Kindergarten how to play a note on the trumpet. I had that feeling of passing down something I now know well and had learned the same way long ago, to someone who could repeat that cycle later on.”

For Fred Hoffmann, junior, “It was good to see us giving the younger kids something to be proud of for that day, even if they don’t go into a formal music program.”  

Seeing the ending concert gave the guests a chance to see how far one can go if choosing a path in music.  Conversely, as an added bonus, it was an affirming day for the Panther Band kids who make music and performing look so easy.  They were given a chance to appreciate their craft and realized how much they've accomplished when seeing it in the hands of a beginner.  Hopefully, it gave many people a chance to re-think their perception of playing their own music, or possibly joining a where they can reap the benefits of belonging to something bigger than themselves.  

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