band concert

In Concert

They're like a deck of black and white playing cards thrown across the gymnasium floor, these 13 to 18 year olds in plain black pants and plain white shirts, except for the dapper dark-haired sax player who also wears a waist-length black jacket and a black bow tie, lavender high tops.
Three rows of folding chairs for people too old or infirm or simply dissuaded by the bank of hard-seated bleachers behind where family groups and clots of friends arrange themselves at different heights, as if on a musical staff. Standard black music stands, wires snaking around the narrow polished floorboards to the wall plugs. Same lights glaring down as for basketball games and assemblies but bouncing back from the brass bells of horns tonight. A lanky crewcut blonde with a pale, spotted complexion stands at the mixing board, eyes darting from the levers he must adjust to the music master this evening, a wiry, animated man wearing a pink shirt. Now grimacing, now beaming, eyebrows raised high above the rims of his eyeglasses, waving his hands, keeping time with a foot, often bouncing, beckoning to various players to come forth with their parts, bring it up, pick it up. First, the junior band. A bad year for recruits on account of a teacher's strike that delayed the start of the school year, but the nine members include two girl trumpet players standing in back, and a girl in a wheelchair whose fist grasps one of various percussion instruments, a maraca, a stick of bells, and shakes it, sometimes strikes it on the tambourine held by the woman next to her chair, her aid. The girl's whole body jumps when she beats. Her smile stretches her face wide enough to draw her head down to her shoulder. Then the teacher introduces a fledgling conductor with blue hair who, if less animated than her mentor, nevertheless leads the junior concert band in a recognizable rendition of Vivaldi's "Fall." Turns out that she and the snappy sax player are dating.
     "Angels We Have Heard on High" is the warm-up number for the senior concert band of about twenty. The audience is invited to sing along, but it's a half-hearted invitation, perhaps obligatory, and elicits a half-hearted response. No one remembers the words. After some tuning up exercises, and scales that demonstrate the need for more precise tuning, come one of Dvorak's Slavonic dances and Gershwin's "American in Paris," the Reader's Digest version, explains the teacher-conductor, adding that it is the first time the concert band has played the piece through, from start to finish. The modern composition by a Mexican composer seems to have intrigued the players to the extent that it may be their best realized piece.
         When the jazz band steps into its separate space, the dapper sax player with the round boy's face, stands for a solo. The stone-faced kid behind the drum kit at the rear has natural flash, pro-drummer moves. Then one of the clarinet players from the concert band steps over to the mic to sing Elton John's, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight".  Tall, a white headband circling her hairline almost like a bandage, this teenage diva must carry the song without the aid of the lush orchestration that usually marks the "Lion King" hit, and except for a slight wobble at the part that goes, "It's enough for this restless warrior ..." she succeeds. Her sweet clear voice earns her the kind of applause that says, well done! good for you, and a few people, perhaps relatives, stand up to try and get an ovation going.  Despite potential relief from the hard seats, few bite.
     For the conclusion, the junior band is asked to join the senior band on the gym floor. "Grab a music stand and find a place," says their leader, as if this is a last minute thought. It's the time of year you expect "Jingle Bells", or maybe a cleverly-arranged medley of sprightly Christmas favourites, but with the uniqueness that has characterized this whole common event, we're left with the slightly suggestive "Santa Baby" for a coda as we climb down the musical staff and accelerando into the night.