The Life of the "Band Geek"
By Nancy Conway, Holy Heart of Mary School, St. John's, NF
High school students have an ordinary schedule. They hesitantly wake up, leave for school, sit in a classroom for a few hours, and depart immediately after the final bell has rung. Except for the weekend plans, this life does not seem very hectic.
Unknown to the rest of the population there is a group of people who spend their time differently. They are not known for their frequent basketball wins, nor do they organize spirit events, and they certainly cannot do splits in the air. These unrecognized groups of students are the so-called "Music Geeks."
Mondays after school. Tuesday at lunchtime. Wednesday evenings. Already the schedule seems full, but, as most music students know, this only amounts to half of their overloaded schedule. This is true for many students around the city. One prime example is the music department at Holy Heart of Mary High School.
At Heart, there are many groups to be involved in. There are four different instrumental ensembles- the Concert Band, the Jazz Band, the Saxophone Quartet, and the Symphonic Orchestra. Also there are four choral groups- the Chamber Choir, the Girls Choir, the Magical Choir, and the Concert Choir.
Most of the Holy Heart music students are involved in more than one group. The most dedicated are usually committed to three or more.
Commitment is a major factor of belonging in one of these ensembles. Students are mainly responsible for showing up to practices, and being prepared for them. This involves practising for these rehearsals independently. This can often take many hours of free time that belong to the student.
Francesca, a grade twelve student at Holy Heart, and also an avid saxophone player knows this personally.
She often spends her free time perfecting a piece of music. This could involve a quick five-minute run over, or it could lead to an intense two-hour practice. Francesca has been known to practice for hours on end.
As a result, these hours of practice pay off. Not only do you have the sense of accomplishment, but also you learn the value of self-discipline, according to Francesca.
"It takes more self-discipline to practice on your own, than with a group. It takes more initiative on your own part."
From numerous hours of practising, a musical person often learns more than the melody to Ode to Joy. One gained ability is commitment skills. They not only apply this attribute to music, but to other areas as well. Because of this learned ability, many music students perform very well in school.
In Holy Heart, a large population of the music students are involved in advanced classes. They achieve for higher goals than other students, because they know that they can commit themselves to challenging subjects.
School work often becomes forgotten because of music practices.
Music students are expected to attend all of their rehearsals. These practices can take up many hours of their time. Most students would find it hard to finish reading the last chapters of Wuthering Heights, and study for their trigonometry test on the same night. Add a two-hour practice on top of this, and you have the life of a music student.
A student, who is heavily involved in music, has a strict "band schedule."
The typical weekly planner of a music student is filled with daily rehearsals. This is the lifestyle of many people including Heather, a grade eleven student at Holy Heart.
She starts off her busy schedule Monday afternoon. At this time she is practising with the school's concert band. This rehearsal, which lasts for an hour and a half, is a weekly reminder of the talent found in the heavily populated high school.
The next weekly practice occurs on Wednesday afternoon, where Heather is joined with seventy other dedicated musicians from the school district, to form the Avalon East District Band. This group rehearses for two hours together and then depart to leave for their separate school bands.
Friday afternoon is also occupied for Heather. For an hour and a half after school, she rehearses with the school's jazz band. And if giving up Friday after school was not enough, she also is involved in a community band which rehearses early Saturday mornings and often Sunday mornings - the ultimate sacrifice for any high school student.
Her schedule is also occupied with planned rehearsals during the lunch hour at school, and sporadic practices held throughout the week. This is only Heather's schedule for band, imagine the added practices due to her involvement in two choirs.
It may appear that band students have a ball and chain attached to their ankles. They are forced to do "music labour." But this is not the case at all. "There is the option of leaving the group", Francesca says.
"No one is forcing you [to go] to practice."
The busiest band students find they have a filled schedule normally. As in the case with Francesca, she has her Monday afternoons and Saturday mornings gone, plus those extra noon rehearsals. But what happens when a major event approaches?
The answer: more practices.
This is especially true around the Kiwanis Music Festival an annual event held in St. John's when the city is practically breathing music. Band students can look forward to extra rehearsals, taking up either their rare free lunch times, or extending the already lengthy after school practices.
My sister, Kathy, a fourth year music student at Memorial University, knows the effect of hours of rehearsals. When asked if a lot of her time is taken up by band she replied:
"Oh you know it!"
Keep in mind, no one is making her attend these practices.
Students attend these extra times, either by haste or by sheer enjoyment, either way they attend. They attend these practices because they are committed.
It seems that the most important factor of being a musician is commitment, but this is not the only factor. Talent is also very important.
Most people enjoy listening to music, but rarely does one venture into actually trying to play an instrument. This job is left to those who are willing. Learning an instrument can begin at any age, not just in the early stages. The only problem is they think it is too late to begin recognizing their talents.
One such example is with Francesca. Generally in schools in St. John's the band program is started in grade six. Francesca, however, only decided to begin playing saxophone in grade eleven.
She believes that you should have some talent, but that is not all you need to be successful.
"More determination [than talent]. Determination is the key," she replied strongly.
Determination helped Francesca achieve a lot of her accomplishments to date. She now plays first alto saxophone in the Concert Band at Holy Heart, and she also placed second in the first solo class in Kiwanis Music Festival. Talent also helped her to achieve her current musical status.
Kathy has experienced many different levels of skills. From beginning flute players to professional orchestras, she has seen many musicians perform. When asked if talent is important in learning she said:
"You need some talent to a certain degree, but you don't need to be a virtuoso."
Talent may not be all you need to play an instrument, but it certainly does not hurt to have the characteristic. Many fine players have been produced in Holy Heart, as well as in the rest of the province.
As the student becomes more dedicated to music, they may find themselves auditioning for ensembles that perform more difficult material. This is usually done through the dreaded audition, where the finest players are chosen to join the group.
The more groups you are involved in the more practices you have to attend. Again, we find ourselves at the beginning, learning the commitment to play.
Performing with many groups does pay off. Students perform not only for their parents, but also for other people in the city. If the group is polished enough, they may travel to other cities in the province showcasing their talent to other audiences.
Seems more like a rock group than high school students.
Music students are also frequent flyers. They travel all over the world attending national and international festivals, where they perform for people that no longer are locals.
Recently, groups from Holy Heart have traveled to other parts of the country to perform. Last year, for example, three instrumental groups the Jazz Band, the Saxophone Quartet, and the Wind Ensemble, went to Music Fest Canada in Ottawa-Hull. In the festival, each group received the high honour of gold status, and also was praised for their extreme amount of talent.
Therefore all of the hard work that music students put into their ensembles does pay off. They achieve a high level of commitment, further their talent abilities, and receive special treats along the way.
Seems that all of those hours of practices are well worth the wait. As Francesca puts it:
"Being part of a band just feels awesome."
Only the true "band geeks" would know this feeling.
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