Last Thursday night, I attended my 11-year old daughter’s winter music recital at Claremont Middle School. She’s the second of my children to participate in the band program; Meghan plays clarinet, her brother played trumpet.
Typically, I prepare for these nights by reminding myself that the performances are about the joy of music, not technical perfection. I hope to come away proud, if not entertained.
The first hint that I was wrong came when the sixth grade band counted down, kicking off their opening number in perfect time. Each player was poised, watching director Seth Moore with unwavering eyes.
They sounded great, not a bleat or squawk slipping from a single instrument. As they worked through their five songs, I kept reminding myself that they’d been playing as a unit for less than four months, and that vacation had ended barely a week earlier.
The string orchestra took their turn in the spotlight with equally remarkable results. The chorus tackled a challenging arrangement with character and aplomb; the combined 7th and 8th grade band then stepped up to show the underclassmen what they might sound like in a year or two.
If these kids are this good now, I thought, they’ll be world-beaters come high school.
There’s been lots of talk in the recent past about the importance of building up student athletics with feeder programs, and much community pride at the current competitiveness of the Stevens football team. The same logic holds for music; the difference is that for the past several years, a well-oiled machine has been producing ribbons, plaques and trophies for the school.
Their reputation extends beyond New Hampshire’s borders. The value of student music programs, it should be pointed out, extends well beyond high school. Most student athletes stop playing competitively after graduation. Music can last much longer.
On the Friday after the middle school concert, I attended a rock show at the Moose Lodge. I was much impressed by the talents of A City Divide, a local group with at least one Stevens band alumni who, as a result of his studies, can play the trombone.
He also learned theory, structure and how to read sheet music – not to mention how to sit still, pay attention and know the cues. Three years later, he’s still using those skills. What other talents are on display this weekend?
Thursday: The Anarchist Orchestra, Middle Earth Music Hall – This ad hoc ensemble features Tao Rodriquez and Jacob Silver (Mammals) and standout fiddler (though her Berklee professors prefer “violin”) Laura Cortese. The result is greater than the sum of its parts, with rustic overtones and silver-plated harmonies. The sinister “Pretty Polly,” however, is Morphine meets Woody Guthrie. Get it while you can, as these fine players will surely be returning to their regular bands soon.
Friday: Sol Y Canto, Vermont Academy – Their name means “Sun and Song,” and they’ll be bringing southern rhythms up to Saxtons River. That’ll end the cold snap for a few hours. Sol Y Canto’s music features rich harmonies out in front, with a gorgeous tapestry of percussive sounds underneath. Led by the Brian and Rosi Amador on guitar and vocals respecitively, the ensemble also features musicians from Cuba, Uruguay, Mexico and Argentina.
Saturday: Al Alessi with the JOSA Ensemble – Newport Opera House – There’s been some confusion about this show. It’s not Al’s regular band, but a group of musicians he worked with at last December’s “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” set. “This is for people who’ve wanted to dance at JOSA” says Bill Wightman, who leads the band and plays piano. Expect Cole Porter, Sinatra, Latin rhythms and a few blues numbers – a more robust version of their First Friday Sophie & Zeke’s appearances.
Sunday: Lucy Kaplansky, Four Corners Grill – Good news for acoustic music fans – the Flying Goose Concert series is back from hiatus. The lineup’s still being fleshed out – John Gorka plays in a few weeks – but this singer/songwriter is a good start. Kaplansky is known for her work with Cry, Cry, Cry and several excellent solo albums. She’s also a go-to vocalist for plenty of other artists. Kaplansky’s new record is due out March 6, so fans should expect some new material.
Wednesday: Eilen Jewell, Iron Horse – Jewell (first name pronounced EE-lin) is generating a lot of buzz in Boston folk circles for last year’s “Boundary County,” as well as her incendiary live shows. Jewell’s crack band trades licks with the conviction of the “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”-era Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. At last summer’s Green River Festival, they played the second stage and earned not one, but two encores. Promoter Jim Olsen heard from more than a few fans who felt they belonged on the main stage.