I can tell the school year is winding down because in the space of a little over a week Noah had a band concert, June’s Girl Scout troop went on their annual camping trip, her running club participated in a 5K, and she played in an orchestra concert and went on a field trip to Baltimore. These are the things that happen when spring is about to give way to summer.
Thursday: High School Band and Jazz Concert
In the week and a half before the band and jazz concert, Noah practiced for a total of five minutes and then only because I suggested that he run through his bell piece one night just before bedtime. The reason for this is that he’d been absolutely swamped with work (he had two research papers in progress at the same time until he turned one in last week) and we were at the beach the weekend before the concert. He generally practices around three hours every weekend and often not at all for the rest of the week. Because of this I was half-glad there was an after-school practice the day of the concert. (The half of me that wasn’t glad was thinking about the paper outline and pre-calculus packet he had due the day after the concert.)
He got home around 4:15 and had less than an hour to work before he needed to change into his band clothes and eat dinner. He got about three-quarters of the way through the pre-calculus. I made a last-minute attempt to convince June to come with us, but she remembered how long the winter concert was and begged off.
We dropped Noah off at school a half hour before concert time and swung by Starbucks for cold drinks to fortify us for the concert. We did this because Beth knew the band booster organization was lying in wait for parents. We donate to the band and Beth might be giving them some computer help, but we weren’t in the mood to hear the boosters’ spiel, so we came in just before concert time.
Six different groups were scheduled to play at the concert—the Jazz Combo, the Jazz Ensemble, the Concert Band, the Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble, plus there was a guest appearance of part of the orchestra. Noah was playing with Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. If you’re thinking, wait, I thought Noah was a percussionist, he is. The Wind Ensemble does not consist, as you might think, solely, or even mostly of wind instruments. I don’t know why it’s called that. No one knows why.
The concert was lovely. There are many talented musicians at Noah’s school and many dedicated music teachers. At various points in the concert students were recognized for their participation in honors bands, all state bands, etc. The seniors in each band were also called to the front of the stage so the band teachers could say where they were going to college. Several were intending to major in music, but engineering was the most popular choice. (This lead to a discussion of right brain skills in the car on the way home. Noah says many of the kids in the bands are also in the math/science magnet. There are more of them than Communications Arts Program kids like him.)
We watched Noah play bells, marimba, and chimes with the Symphonic Band. He sounded especially good on the marimba during Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in B-Flat Major” and it was fun to watch him play a set of chimes taller than he is in “Among the Clouds.” (Though he was standing behind it, so technically we weren’t watching him but only a sliver of his face between the chimes, and the mallets at the very top of the chimes, seeming to move on their own.) He sent Beth a text noting the song was not “in” the clouds, but “among” them. This was a Sean Spicer joke. (He recently chose that hiding in/among the bushes episode when he had to draw a political cartoon for his journalism class.) With the Wind Ensemble, he played claves, woodblock, cabasa, and he had a triangle solo in “A Longford Legend.”
The very last piece of the concert was played by a group of students selected from the various bands and orchestras. By the time they started, we’d been at the concert for three hours and the auditorium, which was comfortable at the beginning of the concert, was getting quite warm, so I was restless. I asked, a little grumpily, why members of the orchestra had to play a song when they had their own concert just two days earlier. Then the band teacher announced that the selection, from Wagner’s “Lohengrin” was a surprise for his wife, because they had it played at their wedding last fall, so I felt somewhat churlish. Still, three hours and ten minutes is a very long concert when everyone has homework and chores left to do and alarms that go off at times that start with five.
Weekend: Camping Trip and 5K
The next day Beth and June left for the Girl Scout camping trip. Noah and I were on our own from late Friday afternoon until early Sunday afternoon. He didn’t have as much homework as usual, so when he wasn’t working on what he did have, we went out for pizza and gelato, read a couple stories from Tales of Earthsea and watched Harold and Maude. It was a very pleasant weekend.
When Beth and June got home, June was limping. It turns out that in between tie-dying pillowcases, making candles, kayaking, and eating massive quantities of s’mores she’d twisted her ankle. It’s not the same one she broke twice this year and it seems to be just a mild sprain, though almost a week later, she’s still limping. And sadly, it kept her from walking the 5K Sunday morning. She wanted to support her team, though, so she and Beth stuck to their plan of leaving the camping trip early and they went to see the runners off and wait for them to come back. (Beth was glad that by cutting out early they missed doing archery because it turns out a lot people got ticks on the archery range.) June’s friend Evie was the first back from her school’s team. That was no surprise. There are a couple of girls on the team who are serious runners and she’s one of them.
Tuesday: Elementary School Band and Orchestra Concert
Noah didn’t have any urgent homework on Tuesday night but because June didn’t go to his concert, I didn’t insist he go to hers. He considered it, but ended up staying home.
“I’ve heard terrible things about the conductor,” he said. He was referring to the fact that I’ve been dissatisfied with the new instrumental music teacher at June’s school. Now it would have been hard for anyone to fill Mr. G’s shoes, but it’s not an exaggeration to say the year was a total loss for June on the violin. She learned nothing.
There was no winter concert and what I heard from the orchestra at the Holiday Sing was not promising—though the band was a little better—so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, not completely sure. Let’s say I was trying to keep an open mind.
It’s a small thing, but I think the fact that the musicians’ names were not on the program was emblematic of the larger problem. I never got the sense the teacher recognized June as an individual, with musical strengths and weaknesses, so he never used her talent and experience to build the orchestra and he never helped her stretch herself.
I can’t bring myself to critique a group of nine to eleven-year-old, mostly beginning musicians too harshly, especially as none of what happened was their fault, so these are the positive things I can say:
The advanced band sounded not half bad on their medley of Queen songs, though I do find it amusing how often young musicians are compelled to play the popular music of their parents’ youth. This seems true across elementary and middle school bands. There was some nice stagecraft, as when a fifth-grade percussionist ran up to the stage in a shark costume during “Shark Attack!” and the whole advanced orchestra threw silvery banners into the air at the end of “Silly String.” This was June’s favorite song to play. The advanced orchestra sounded better than the beginning orchestra. And the concert was short. Clocking in at just over an hour, it was the shortest school concert I’ve ever attended.
Friday: Field Trip
The fifth grade went on a field trip to the Maryland Science Center on Friday. It was their last field trip of the year, and of elementary school. As I affixed stickers to her brown bag lunch, as I have done for every field trip since kindergarten, I started to feel nostalgic, whereas I hadn’t at all at the concert. Sometimes it’s the little things.
Beth chaperoned the trip and when the two of them came home, surprising me by arriving almost an hour before I expected them, June was laden with gift shop toys and she was wearing a t-shirt with all her classmates’ signatures printed on it. She’d seen a planetarium show, gone into a wind tunnel, lain on a bed of nails, experimented with pulleys, watched a model of tornado, and seen a very large blue crab in a tank (half as big as my head, she informed me).
There are three weeks left in the school year and then I’ll be the mother of two secondary school students. That makes the end of this school year seem a little more momentous than most, but I’m ready, and I think June is, too.