By Mary Anne Andersen
Cedar City Arts Council
You have to have a child in a school music program to really appreciate the year-end band or orchestra concert. In the first place, you would never attend one of these if you didn’t have to. They are dreadful—-music wise. But I had a beloved granddaughter in an orchestra concert in another city recently, and since she wanted me there and we are life-long music educators, of course we went. But we had very realistic expectations about the experience ahead of us.
The intermediate orchestra consisted of about 30 students playing strings and some woodwinds, many of whom had never taken a private lesson but just learned their instrument as part of the school program. So, given this fact, the wise band-orchestra does everything possible to make his group look good, in hopes of conveying a sense of professionalism before the hapless audience.
But alas, even this seemingly-achievable goal is illusive. All students were told to wear concert black, a term that musicians understand to mean, well——-black. At least for shirts and shoes. (Good jeans often have to suffice for the pants.) But there is always at least one student who somehow didn’t get the memo, or at least didn’t pass the memo on to her mom until 30 minutes before concert time. So, she is wearing a bright blue shirt amidst all the black, which will certainly make her easily seen in the video her mom is making of the concert. And the child vigorously tapping her foot in time to the music in the first chair cello seat? You can’t miss her because she is wearing her red high-top Vans.
It must be acknowledged at this point that the conductor himself was not above a bit of sartorial flash. He wore black and white-checked Vans with his tuxedo, perhaps an attempt at distraction. But these slips were offset by the first trumpet player, a young man in suit and tie and hair gelled in stiff spikes. I watched him a lot, touched by his obvious desire to be at his best for the evening. I’ll bet he knew his music, too.
Which brings us to the music. It was pretty awful on a scale of 1 to 10, but off the charts as far as we were concerned. To get a group of middle school students sitting attentively in their chairs, then raising their instruments on cue and getting through “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is no small feat.
To be honest, many of the pieces were recognizable. I’d have known the advanced band was playing the “Star Wars Marches” even without the program in my hand. And it is hard to pick out individual bad notes because everyone plays so LOUD. I asked my husband, an experienced music teacher, why the director didn’t require some sections to play softer so we could hear the melody better. He just smiled and said, “Everyone started and ended together. That is success.”