Friday, July 15, 2016

Privileged Witnesses

The Ellison High School Wind Ensemble,
Mr. Smith conducting. Photo courtesy Mr. Raul Munoz
Some experiences leave a lasting impression. Sometimes they are grand in scale, and sometimes not, but they are significant enough to become etched in your mind and your heart. Music has such power, especially live performance. People playing musical instruments can move your soul; they can astonish and electrify, they can transfix and captivate. Sometimes, when everything is just right, you feel privileged to have witnessed it.
A high school band, including my son Brendan, and a piccolo player provided such a memorable experience on a rainy May night.

It was the Ellison High School Spring Concert, the final event of the year for this group. Brendan is 16, a member of the school's baseball team, and also plays the baritone (aka: euphonium) in the Wind Ensemble, the band made up of the best musicians in the student body.
Mr. Gonzalez' Concert Band, the least experienced of the Ellison bands, opened the program, setting the tone for the evening with a fine performance. Mr. Young's Symphonic Band joined them, with the entire group showing remarkable progress over the course of the year. The Symphonic group performed alone, and my thought was this was the best we had seen from these groups in our two years as high school parents.
As the Wind Ensemble took the stage for a combined effort with the Symphonic Band, Mom, sitting next to me, leaned over and said:
"Are they all especially good tonight?"
"Yes, they are," I said.
With the Wind Ensemble, directed by Mr. Smith, this group is always excellent, and we knew what to expect. At least we thought so. We had no idea what was to come.
With guest conductor, Frank Coachman (a former band director at Ellison), they played a medley from the old musical Mary Poppins, a march, and a familiar Scottish/Irish piece, all beautifully done. The program included Frank Ticheli's 'An American Elegy', a work he composed in tribute to survivors and those lost in the Columbine High School tragedy. The piece featured solos and duets from a trumpet and several other instruments. The final duet included a baritone, and although I could not see Brendan from my seat, I knew he was playing.
At the conclusion of 'Elegy', Mr. Coachman pointed to each soloist and, in turn, each stood. The emphatic manner in which he pointed made me think he was pleased at the performances. We were also happy, of course, hearing our son (and the others) play so beautifully, and to see Brendan recognized before his peers and the audience for his work.
That would have been enough for me – an evening of exceptional music from these talented high school students and directors. I was delighted and felt as though we had been treated to the best performances we had yet seen in the two years since Brendan began at Ellison.
They weren't finished yet.
Mr. Coachman announced they would play a surprise selection. The music began, and it was immediately recognizable – 'The Stars and Stripes Forever', the John Philip Sousa classic that is the National March of the United States. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest and most stirring pieces of music ever written, featuring the famous piccolo part (officially known as 'obbligato', i.e., an indispensable part).
As the familiar music began, my thought was, are they going to do the piccolo part? They can't do this music without the piccolo; it wouldn't be the same. Do they have anyone who can play it? It is technically difficult, and only someone with great talent and confidence can take on such a part and do it justice.
At the critical point, I saw movement beyond the conductor, and a young lady stepped past her music stand and moved to the front edge of the stage. She lifted her piccolo to her lips and with every eye in the audience surely fixed on her, delivered a stunning, soaring rendering of the most famous piccolo part in all of music. It was utterly spectacular and the crowd briefly erupted.
Then, as if the crowd wasn't already awestruck, the low brass section stood as one, faced the audience, and presented with authority, the robust countermelody, while our favorite piccolo soloist continued to play.
As the piece reached its majestic conclusion (all too soon!), the crowd exploded. I leaped to my feet with those around me, and we clapped, whistled, and shouted appreciation and approval. Not just for this last magnificent piece, but for the entire program.
I turned to look around me, and I saw smiles everywhere. I saw faces lit up, beaming, mirroring the look on my face. I felt as though I had experienced a significant event. It was one of those things grand enough in scale to leave a lasting impression on me, and surely, most of those who were fortunate enough to be in that room for this astounding program.

The night included a string of outstanding performances, and among those were several that were powerful and memorable. Brendan, his Wind Ensemble band mates, and that piccolo player captivated and electrified me, and made me a privileged witness to magic that moved my soul.
Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

1 comment:

  1. Larry,

    I am thrilled you enjoyed the Ellison Band Spring Concert.
    Great staff, great students! It was a very distinct pleasure for me to be in front of these fine bands.
    All the soloist were amazing as were the choir members!
    Brendan's solos were so tasteful. Piccolo player - well, she nailed it!

    Best regards,
    Frank Coachman