Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Band Practice

It might seem odd in one so averse to children, public events and schooling as myself, but I confess I was looking forward to attending the Winter Concert at Key West High School this year. My wife and I were invited by a colleague of hers who has a daughter in the High School Band and I was happy to show up and be part of the support group:The High School was rebuilt a few years ago on the same site as the old school on Flagler Avenue, and happily for us, the community at large, they included a modern theater facility on the campus. The auditorium is used as a performance space of all kinds, music, theater and of course the band:They call it a Winter Concert but it's not the solstice they are marking:I have to say the program was varied far beyond anything we attempted when I was in High School. The Director of Bands Ashby Goldstein had the band perform the usual holiday fare which is really Christmas carols and Tchaikovsky but we also got some Kwanzaa music which I had never heard, Imani by Sean O'Loughlin.It was abundantly clear Goldstein, himself a graduate of key West High, was having a great time with his youngsters:
I like the fact that the High School is an open campus, in a nation where students in big cities have to pass through gates and metal detectors to get to work, the students here can come and go as they please. of course Key West is such a small town truancy isn't as easy to pull off as it might at first appear as everyone has a tendency to know their neighbor's business...MY wife's buddy Cathy lives up the Keys near us and she was keeping a close eye on her daughter who was playing a saxophone buried almost out of sight in the bowels of the band. The proud parents had their camera out for the occasion and Phil was working hard to pull his teenager out of the crowd:The band's performance brings out the village atmosphere in this small town and during the intermission neighbors took the time to to catch up with each other:Whenever I attend a gathering like this in Key West I think about how far out on a limb we are down here, sticking out like a finger into the Straits of Florida. if we could get in the car and drive south to Havana we would be there easily in ninety minutes, and what a world apart it would be! Yet here we are firmly anchored, under our palm trees and the star studded tropical sky, in America. This may be rhe southernmost High School but its still the band in the land of Sousa and glittering instruments and a particular musical history:Cathy said the young musicians had been hard at work practicing for this public display of their artall semester long. She said band practice was a daily affair and treated with utmost seriousness by the musicians. Mnay years ago I was in my high school band in England where I was sent to boarding school. Looking back I feel rather as though I am seeing someone entirely different:The vest tradition lived on I was glad to see including this young timpanist clacking his wood blocks:And how can one not approve of a female tuba player? Call me prejudiced but I've always felt the piccolo, valuable though its music may be, is an instrument foir wussies...The concert highlight was a performance of the inevitable Nutcracker Suite, holiday music par excellence, but as Mr Goldstein himself pointed out, one cannot hear the Nutcracker and not think of ballet... So we were privileged to witness the debut of a new and exciting corps de ballet whose name I forget. However their performance, brought to us by means of a video recording was unforgettable. Indeed they brought the house down:They were, it turned out, hairy members of the band itself, unafraid to make fools of themselves in tutus and slippers, diving, pas de deuxing and pirouetting with no aplomb but plenty of vigor. You had to be there to listen to the whoops and hollering and gales of laughter as the boys flung themselves into their roles as swans of a bygone age trying to be graceful and failing with determination. They took their bows from the wildly appreciative house:Cathy was as flabbergasted as anyone by the tightly kept secret of the special performance, no was to know ahead of time. The evening ended a little earlier for my wife and I as we left before the community singalong. My wife is a Jew and despite her protestations she has but the vaguest idea about the Christian traditions of Christmas and I couldn't bear to hear her mangle Christmas carols. Aside from which I loathe audience participation and singalongs so she was the perfect excuse for me to get us out of there. As we left we found a youngster perched on the auditorium steps:He was unable or unwilling to articulate to strangers passing by why he was sitting out there missing a great evening's entertainment warming his hands with his breath. And I know 68 degrees isn't really cold in a lot of places, but it is in Key West, keeper of the southernmost flame of small town American traditions. Be not afraid, we here at 24 degrees North Latitude know what needs to be done this time of year even if frost and snow never put in an appearance. I'm only sorry I couldn't get to the Christmas parade down Truman Avenue, the other winter tradition that will have to wait till next year. Same time same place I hope.