We're Striking Up THE BAND31 March 2019 Written by By Carey Hurst
Published in April 2019 Articles
The Brentwood Community Band Director Talks about the Ensemble and Tells her Story
The Brentwood Music Foundation is a nonprofit fundraising organization with the mission of supporting the Brentwood Concert Band. Our big “Music and Morsels” fundraiser event will be next month, May 18, at Tess’s Community Farm Kitchen. A yummy and nutritious dinner will be followed by a live auction. The band will perform selections from familiar movies, musicals, and marches. We intend to put the fun in fundraising. You don’t want to miss this! Space is limited, so go to www. communityfarmkitchen.com and order your tickets now.
The band has a relatively busy schedule. We played this month at the Opening Day Celebration for the Brentwood Historic Society. We perform frequently at the VFW Hall where our play lists usually include period music, plus fun band pieces of many kinds. We also perform for two annual events at the Brentwood cemetery — the Memorial Day service and the Wreaths Across America event.
Besides fundraisers, we receive support through sponsorships and other community sources. We have been able to purchase kettle drums, a drum set, chairs, and stands. Our current pressing need is for a rehearsal site and a suitable storage area for our instruments, props, and other belongings.
The Brentwood Concert Band has been making beautiful music since April 2005, when Bruce & Sue Stuart, with Kermit Sveen put the project together. I played in the flute section. Following Bruce’s passing, I served as co-director with Sue. She handled all the details and administration; I helped select music and created programs. In 2014, Sue retired from the band in order to focus on her Community Chorus.
At the beginning, the band was part of Brentwood’s Liberty Adult Education program. From the official point-of-view, we were simply a class that adults could enroll in who were interested in playing a musical instrument. We would actually earn class credit. (If the credits were transferable, by now some of us would probably have enough credit for a PhD or two.)
The relationship with academia was confining for a number of reasons, so one of the first things I did as director was to set up the band as an independent 501(c) (3) nonprofit.
I was born in a little town called Brandt, Ohio, which is 13 miles north and a little east of Dayton. Brandt was a mere hamlet, much like Knightsen, with cows, chickens, corn fields, and septic tanks. From earliest childhood, I had a keen interest in learning and Mom taught me to read before I was five.
Music and the performing arts became fundamental to my life almost as soon as I encountered them. I was only four when I began taking dancing lessons. During the subsequent 15 years of lessons, I mastered ballet, acrobatics, and jazz.
Even though Mom was no musician or music aficionado, herself, she set the direction of my life when I was only five years old, when she signed me up for piano lessons. The teacher, Ethel Valentine, was a retired concert pianist who apparently saw some promise in me because she always called me “Carlotta,” and repeatedly told me that I was destined to become a professional musician.
I developed into a painfully shy and reserved young person. Even in college, I seldom spoke at length with other people except during lessons and band practice. Fortunately, I discovered a substitute for speech, because I very early discovered what Georgia Cates would say so eloquently, that “Music is what feelings sound like out loud. I sing songs that speak from my heart. They tell my story, how I feel.” Barriers fell away when I was at the keyboard. My bashfulness and inhibitions seemed to flow out of my spirit, into my hands, through the keys, to be carried away on the wings of my music.
“At the beginning, the band was part of Brentwood’s Liberty Adult Education program.”
There was a problem, however. We lived out our family life against the backdrop of a blaring television set. Mom would turn it on in the morning the moment she came out of the bedroom and would only shut it off that night as she was heading back to bed. Unfortunately, the piano was in the family room beside the TV, so I would rest and nap in the evenings until I heard the television go off, then would go into the family room and play the piano until weariness finally overcame me in the early hours of the morning.
In fourth grade, I learned that anyone who played an instrument (besides the piano) could join the school band. I was intent on becoming involved in music through any means, so I signed up. The flute became my instrument of choice. For one thing, it was small and had a pure tone, but I mainly chose it because a used flute was affordable. Flute joined the piano as a means of expressing myself and finding release through music. Plus, I could play it on the porch or in the back yard, so I didn’t have to wait until 11:30 at night to begin practice.
I intended to go to college, graduate with a major in piano, and become a public-school music teacher. However, we moved to California during my junior year. There wasn’t room in our little pick-up camper for the piano, so my flute was the instrument of choice when I auditioned for college at California State University at Chico. I spent the next six years studying music, focused on band, and acquired at least entry level expertise in each of the 17 standard band instruments.
I graduated from Chico in the class of ’81, spent a year earning my teaching credentials, and then landed my first position as a music teacher in the small community of Downieville, which was up in the Gold Country on Highway 49, 50 miles north of Grass Valley. The Yuba River splits into the North Fork and South Fork right in the middle of town. Even today there aren’t three dozen structures in the whole community. It never lost its Gold Country charm because much of the architecture and style has hung on from the mining era, with wooden walkways and antique buildings.
Every morning I taught music to 200 kids in Downieville’s K-12 school and directed three bands that provided age-appropriate performance opportunities for anyone above third grade who wanted to play a musical instrument.
At noon I would drive ten miles up a twisting road to Alleghany, which was a half dozen buildings clustered around the site of the old Morning Glory Gold Mines. There I would assemble the entire student body of 35 kids into a band — from little first graders playing finger cymbals and castanets up to the seniors playing trumpets and flutes. I also provided special teaching moments for anyone who wanted to learn guitar or bass.
I loved the daily trips up to Alleghany, not least because the Lunch Lady was an excellent cook who served the students with home-cooked meals prepared in her own kitchen. She would always have a tasty lunch waiting for me when I arrived. Even without snow, the trips up and down that mountain road were adventurous. Mountain lion sightings were common. The animals had a powerful odor that I came to recognize, and I could sometimes smell the big cats before they came into sight.
I might have spent my whole career happily teaching music to the children and grandchildren of those first students, but Prop 13 was beginning to spread its poison throughout the California system of public education. The little school district was losing important funds and music, of course, became the first program to be cut.
I moved to Georgetown, which is 50 miles northeast of Sacramento and coincidentally another site where the American River divides. For the next 17 years I taught music to children in four different schools including Northside K-8, Creekside K-5, Georgetown Middle, and Golden Sierra High. I offered classroom music for the little kids, gave recorder lessons for fourth graders, conducted three different age grouped bands in fifth through twelfth grades, and directed a high school choir.
During that time, I spent each summer on the road, traveling around the country. I had developed a compulsion to learn how to correctly conduct a band and to deliberately use body language and nonverbal communication to effectively direct people in joining together and making beautiful music. At various workshops and master classes, I was able to learn from some icons in the industry. I would spend time preparing several pieces of music for the class and would then conduct an ensemble while clinicians would listen, critique my behavior, and offer suggestions on how to improve my artistic interpretation of the music.
During that time, I also enrolled in an instrumental conducting course at CSU Sacramento and for four years attended night classes every Tuesday and Thursday. The fourth year I was promoted to grad assistant for the course and would give classroom lectures and conduct band ensembles.
It was gratifying to finally see measurable pay-off from all that work. At the beginning of those years, my students would typically receive high marks at festivals where they competed, but they were performing music at Level 2 difficulty. However, after completing my masters’ degree, the students continued to earn superior ratings but were now performing music at Level 4, or even higher. My own skill level was the only factor that had changed.
I would have happily remained in Georgetown for the rest of my life, but Prop 13 began to infect the quality of education there, as well. Teaching programs had to be cut so, once again, they began to cut out music.
During the next few years, I engaged in a confusing search for a place that would offer a suitable fit for my desires and talents. Music programs were being cut all over the state, so available positions were constantly being reduced. None of them turned out to be the perfect fit I had spent a lifetime preparing for.
It was actually time well spent because in the short time that I would spend in a place, I discovered I had a gift for helping broken programs recover. I was doing with bands what some builders do with houses when they “flip” them. I was “flipping” bands. Even when my position came to an end, for one reason or another, the members of the band were performing at a much higher level than they had been when I had arrived.
My continually changing situations never got me down. I am a woman of faith, with perfect confidence that in “all things” God really was “working for good.” I maintained a conviction that I didn’t want to be anywhere except in whatever place God would prepare for me.
In 2005, the position opened up at Liberty. It was perfect timing because I had been teaching at Fresno’s University High Charter School and my position terminated just after I had returned with 90 members of the school’s top band from a triumphant performance at Carnegie Hall.
I visited Brentwood, found that the school position fit me perfectly, and became the Liberty High School’s Band Director. From the beginning I felt that I was “coming home” to a welcoming situation. My sense of belonging was encouraged by the cooperation I enjoyed with two incredible women — Sue Stuart, who was the school’s choral director at the time, and Helen Dixon the theater director. The two of them had been working as a team and they let me join. It was awesome!
The three of us were able to work together to create a series of wonderful musical events that were better than anything each of us could have done working alone. Music at Liberty in that way provided a pleasant contrast to the situation in some schools where bands, choirs, and theater arts people compete with each other for resources, personnel, and schedules.
We were helping young people make beautiful music. That’s what God has put me in the world to do. My happy place is wherever I mount a podium, raise the baton, strike up the band, and my spirit is carried away by the beautiful sounds the band — my band — is beginning to make.