Band Scales The Heights

June 01, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

The sound of success is sweet and not too brassy.

The 91-member Advanced Band at Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School played its way to two top awards in a month and defeated eight public high school bands to become the first junior high band to finish first in the Festivals of Music concert band competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Slade also was named the "outstanding Catholic elementary school band" of 1994 by the National Catholic Bandmasters Association.

The youths are proud of the honors, proud enough to ask band director Wes Osment to put their photo in place of photos of past trophy winners and proud enough to remind each other that they outplayed high school bands two weeks ago.

Their honors and trophies represent more than 225 hours a week of collective practice by sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. They came to after-school rehearsals even when they were too sick to attend school. Their respect for their bandleader is such that all giggling stops the moment he raises his baton.

They learn to play an instrument. They learn discipline. They learn to perform as a group. They learn that with the prestige comes the fun of an out-of-town trip and the necessity to make up missed classwork.

"They do a lot of practice, a lot of work at home. They know what the expectations are, and they work for it," Mr. Osment said.

Each student practices at least 2 1/2 hours a week on top of music lessons and weekly band practice. Parents sign practice cards attesting the students' efforts.

"I don't need a practice card to tell who's practicing," Mr. Osment said.

The students, in their green and white band outfits, know that.

Practice and facility with the instrument is expected, said Roscoe Hager, 13, a seventh-grader who has spent five years playing and will be a senior member of the band in the fall. He practices his baritone saxophone at his home in Severn and will attend band camp this summer.

"They have to want to play for you. They have to like you," Mr. Osment said. "They have to be afraid not to play for you."

Alto saxophone player Shaun Berry, 13, said popular compositions such as "Rock Around the Clock" are fun and easy to play but that more work is required for traditional music, such as "Lost City," that wins band competitions.

"The dynamics are harder," said the seventh-grader from Severn. "You have to bring in all the parts and blend them in."

Mr. Osment has been at Slade for 14 years, during which he and the school have made a point of developing a strong band tradition, said Suzanne Whitmore, director of development.

Training starts as early as third grade, when youngsters start learning the flutophone.

Beginner band is for fourth-graders and others just starting an instrument. Prep band is for fifth- and sixth-graders. Prep band members will start auditioning tomorrow for the Advanced Band. No more than half of the beginners will make it.

For practices, the band fills half of the basketball court in the school gym-auditorium. Mr. Osment conducts from a podium at midcourt.

During performances, the band crowds the school stage. Band members hunch to avoid accidentally slugging each other with their instruments. They had to hold their Christmas concert at Archbishop Martin Spalding High School in Severn.

"We can't fit on our stage," said Mr. Osment. "We used to play for the senior center across the street [the Pascal Center], but we can't fit there anymore."

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