Danielle Low, a senior from Hampstead, explained how she spent what was left of her summer vacation: getting up with enough time to arrive at Pinkerton Academy by 9:45 a.m. “If you arrive by 10, you’re late,” Low said, as she cradled her tenor saxophone.
They came, 190 strong, to a field behind Pinkerton Academy for eight days of band practice. Pinkerton held its annual Band Camp last week under the direction of Mike Adams in order to prepare the students for the first football game Sept. 7.
They wore T-shirts and shorts instead of their red-and-white band uniforms, and they carried water bottles as a defense against the late August sun and heat. Their instruments gleamed in the sunlight. A lone clarinetist ran a scale, followed by different instruments tuning up, before they migrated to where Adams stood on an improvised podium. Then they ran scales together, the many notes blending into a whole.
They played a spirited version of “Tonight,” from “West Side Story,” along with intricate choreography, weaving back and forth across the field. It’s a discipline that is helpful to Adams’s three drum majors, all seniors this year.
Ryan LoPresti of Hampstead has been in band all four years, and traces his interest back to learning trumpet in fifth grade. It’s helped him connect to the school at large, he said. “It gives you friends, a place to be,” he said. “When you’ve got a free period you can go to the band room and be with friends.”
The discipline is helpful, LoPresti said, adding, “You can apply it to a lot of things. It gives you a presence.”
Ben Allen of Derry also took up the trumpet in fifth grade, after a music professional came to his elementary school to show and describe the various instruments. “I saw a trumpet and I said, ‘I want to play that!’” Allen recalled.
Many people don’t realize the discipline it takes to learn and master an instrument, Allen said. It’s an attitude one has to maintain, and carries with it “several subtle life lessons,” he said.
Katie Whitney of Hampstead started music in fifth grade, moving from the alto sax to the “Berry Sax” to the bassoon. “I love the sounds the bigger instruments make,” she said. She was eager to start, noting that her sister plays the flute, another sister sings and a brother was in the Pinkerton drum line.
Whitney just recently switched to the bassoon and is “trying to catch up,” so she practices a half hour a day, she said.
Why? “It is so worth it,” Whitney said.
All three seniors agreed that it all comes together for them on the field or in the parade lineup. “When it’s going well, I feel really good,” LoPresti said. “It pays off when you hear the crowd cheering.”
“We trust our friends and we know they’ve done their homework,” Allen said. “When it comes together, it’s amazing!”
“It’s a rush,” Whitney added. “I get butterflies in my stomach when I get up to conduct. But then I feel inspiration coming back from the band. They inspire you, you inspire them – it’s a give-and-take.”
The students take responsibility for some of the logistics. LoPresti and Allen drifted off to hand out colored poker chips, the mechanism for identifying where each student stands in the routine.
Adams said the two-week lead time is necessary for the students to be perfect at that first game. They will have most of their 2013 “show” learned by then, a medley from “West Side Story.”
Adams praised the students’ commitment. While the camp is not mandatory, “it’s part of what we do,” he said. Some have to beg off because of jobs or family vacations, but the “vast majority” make it to camp, he said.
“They have a sense of what it takes,” Adams said.
And they get as much as they give, Adams added. “To me, the best thing about music education is life skills,” he said. “It’s commitment, setting short-term goals, setting long-term goals, working together, creativity.” Upper-classmen take leadership positions, he said, and that’s another life lesson.
“They are doing a good job,” Adams said of this year’s Band Camp.
For Danielle Low, the pleasure is all hers. “It’s a great chance to reconnect with friends,” she said as she lounged on the grass during a break.
Low chose the saxophone after a music demonstration in fifth grade. She started with the alto sax, then moved to tenor sax and “loved it,” she said. She rented for a year, and then, at the end of seventh grade, her parents recognized her talent and commitment and bought her “my tenor.”
“You can communicate so much more with music,” Low said. “I feel great doing it. If I’m feeling down I play music, or I listen to it.”
She paused, then added with a smile, “It’s awesome!”