Monday, April 22, 2024

Playing in the high school marching band makes you 'part of something bigger'


Morgan Park High School music teacher Steven Schnall, left, guides 8th graders Khaliah Lastic (center) and Jaydah Keefer as they practice their trumpets.

     Lunch begins third period in Morgan Park High School, which might sound odd, since the bell sounds at 9:25 a.m. Students use the time to eat, study, or in the case of Khaliah Lastic and Jaydah Keefer, both 14, both 8th graders, both friends, to slide by the band room with their trumpets for a little practice.
     "B flat scale, let's do it," says music teacher Steven Schnall, who plays 13 instruments and has a doctorate in jazz from the University of Illinois.
     They play.
     "Good, good, excellent job," he says, when they finish. "When you get to the higher notes, make sure you're supporting just as much as on the bottom notes." Then, snapping his fingers to set a tempo. "One, two ready go..."
     If you read the Sunday paper, you might have seen my column on how trumpets are made. The story began with a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance of Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra," with principal trumpeter Esteban Batall├ín playing the first three notes, CGC, made famous in "2001: A Space Odyssey."
     I originally thought it would be a fine thing if the story that began with one of the great musicians in the world ended with students just learning to play.
     But getting to know Lastic, looking smart in her ROTC uniform — 5,444 CPS students are in JROTC — and Keefer, with her purple dreadlocks, made it impossible to confine the South Side teens to a stylistic flourish in the last few paragraphs of a long story about making trumpets.
     "My dad played it in high school," said Lastic, playing a Horton B-flat trumpet, explaining why she took up the instrument.
    "My friend was in it, and I really wanted to join her," said Keefer, who has been playing a Blessing Scholastic for about six months."I thought it would be really cool to try to learn something new..."
     Plus playing a trumpet is a way to stand out.
     "So I can flex on people," Keefer said, as her friend laughed. "I really like the idea of being part of something bigger. I'm glad I chose this instrument. It's hard, but if you put in the work, it's worth it."

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  1. In a pre-concert talk, Viet Cuong, guest composer at Chicago's Civic Orchestra on February 12. lauded his time in his high school marching band as formative to his career. He is also on faculty at the University of Nevada. And recently I heard a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra speak of his years in high school band being essential to the development of his career. Oh, if only CPS would fund more marching bands, including those in the show style of the bands of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

  2. Anybody ever been to a band a high school football stadium? Where a whole bunch of marching bands show off their skills? No game...just marching bands and their music. Ohio is one of the biggest high school football states in the country...along with Florida, California, and Texas. So there used to be quite a few marching bands.

    Maybe 20-25 years ago, there were a lot of these band shows in Ohio. Went to a few. They're fun to watch. Haven't heard about too many of them in recent years. Maybe student participation is shrinking. Marching time and practice time takes away from screen time and phone time. What a shame.

  3. I'm enjoying your trumpet trilogy and I wanted to say thanks for underlining the benefits of studying music.

    And now I've learned the expression "to flex on!"

  4. I agree with Ms. Jeffries entirely. I've heard the great orchestras of the world and only once heard one of the wonderful HBCU bands, equally thrilling. FYI, the great Chicago Symphony trumpet player Adolph "Bud" Herseth started his career playing in his public school bands...and married the girl playing trumpet next to him...and lived and played happily ever after.


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