Advanced symphonic band picks up tempo for final concert

Sophie Smallhorn

On May 27, the Redwood music department performed in the amphitheater for their first and final concert of the 2020-2021 school year. With roughly 45 songs, the concert lasted two hours and concluded with an extravaganza including everyone in the music program. The advanced symphonic band, Redwood’s most experienced group of students playing woodwind and percussion instruments, served as the backbone for this finale alongside advanced performance workshop (APW) students.

The entire Redwood music department plays beside each other for the first time in over a year.

Joey O’Neill, a flutist in the advanced symphonic band, expressed his excitement about getting back to this tradition. 

“The concert ritual is a big thing about [music]. Getting together in the same space, feeling the whole energy of the audience watching you, putting together something for the audience to appreciate; that’s a great feeling to go back to,” O’Neill said. 

 This concert and the practices leading up to it are a testament to every musician’s dedication to recover from a year without normal rehearsal. John Mattern, the head of the music department, holds Monday evening rehearsals to give students more time to transition playing with an ensemble. 

“You have to take yourself out of the equation a bit, and put yourself in the context of the larger band that plays with certain things like intonation or rhythm, breathing and playing together,” O’Neill said.

Senior Bradley Dibble hones his scales in the amphitheater during a Monday evening rehearsal session.

Because ensembles typically consist of 30 to 40 students, the band congregates outside wearing masks specially made for musicians. Although the masks are supposedly breathable, senior and flutist Amelia Sharpe says that sometimes musicians accidentally inhale their mask while playing. Safety protocols also create challenges with visual communication between the percussion and the woodwinds, as percussion and piano can not be easily moved outside. To be heard, the indoor sections use a microphone that runs from the band room to the mosaic garden. The physical separation, combined with being out of practice, means the band must put extra effort into forming a cohesive sound.

Warming up, senior Emily Rusting wears a special mask made for flute players.

“If you play your own part individually, it doesn’t sound special; it sounds like there’s something missing. When it all comes together, it’s like this wonderful jigsaw puzzle — it’s more than the sum of its parts,” O’Neill said. 

Playing with everyone together again had been a long awaited moment for the band. Returning to practice at full capacity on April 13 left band members feeling overjoyed after a year of ear training, music theory and solo sessions on Zoom. Compared to other extracurriculars like sports, band was one of the last extracurricular activities allowed to practice with all of its members together per health guidelines. Zoom provided no better alternative, as the online delay made music production nearly impossible. Despite sounding rusty on their first in-person run through, the band’s first song together elicited strong emotions for Mattern.

 “It was touching. [I had just been] missing the kids and that sound of the band… I had a moment of melancholy; I felt sorry for all of the kids who had to go through [band online.] All of us survived. Nobody really quit, and I thank them for that,” Mattern said. 

Senior Gabe Goldman, a bari-saxophonist in the advanced band, reminisces of the first time they played as a full band.

Playing his bari-saxophone in sectionals, senior Gabe Goldman plans on continuing through college.

“It was a little magical. It felt like it had been so long [to hear] music that didn’t sound tinny or crappy like on Zoom, like you’re actually hearing the instruments together,” Goldman said.

  Students not only decided to stick with the band, but some also utilized the past year to hone their skills. While restrictions certainly curtailed how much the band could accomplish this year, COVID-19 did not stop band students from attempting feats alone. 

“I think a lot of students throughout the last year in music haven’t had that motivation because they’re not working for other people or for a band. It’s hard to be motivated to actually play music if you’re just playing for yourself, unless you really get joy out of it,” Goldman said. 

Although some may have lost the initial drive they once had before the pandemic, this concert leaves the advanced band’s seven seniors feeling bittersweet as they wind up their high school music career. Goldman reflects on his music experience with more appreciation having lost a year. 

“There’s that saying ‘You don’t know what you had until it’s gone;’ it makes me so excited to play. I look forward to [playing] together with other students in college,” Goldman said. “I look back on sophomore and freshman year, and I’m so thankful that I had those experiences and that I can continue to have them going forward.”