My amazement continues at the vast chasm between Oscar's scrappy little elementary school and the mega infrastructure of his middle school. Last night's winter concert drove the point home. The beginning band, cadet band, concert band, and the symphonic band all performed in the enormous auditorium of the high school next to the middle school, and I sat in a comfortable theater-style seat instead of a folding chair. The students have a strict dress code: I had to purchase Oscar a winged-collar tuxedo shirt, a black bow tie, black dress pants, black dress shoes, black dress socks, and a new belt.
In Oscar's beginning band alone, there are 42 students listed on the program, including six other clarinet players. The cadet band has 80 students; the concert band has 66 students, the symphonic band (an elite group that requires an audition) has 57. And the school also has an after-school jazz band program. According the notes on the concert program, more than 500 students at his school are involved in the choir, orchestra, band, and jazz ensembles.
The music program is so big it has its own PTA-type support system called FOMAHI (Friends of Music at Hamilton International). It does its own fundraising, has its own website, and is in fact its own nonprofit corporation! The group seems to be exceptionally well organized -- maybe better than the school itself.
We had some problems with Oscar's schedule at the beginning of the year, initially because he was assigned to Japanese, band, and P.E. -- but had no science class. It slowly dawned on me that science was probably actually required (it is!) and we had Oscar's schedule changed to swap P.E. for science. In the first few days of school, Oscar mentioned that the kids in his band class didn't even know what middle C was, so I wrote to his band teacher who said he'd test Oscar on trumpet to see if he should be in the cadet group instead of with the beginners. He passed, but Oscar would again have to change every one of his classes to get in -- which he absolutely did not want to do -- so in the end he changed from trumpet to clarinet to alleviate boredom. I'm not sure that was the best decision, especially after learning that he picked clarinet because it was easy to carry, but whatever.
Anyway, the concert was lovely, and the symphonic band was extremely impressive. The director of all these bands, Dan Rowe, told us parents at back-to-school night that he does not believe that talent has anything to do with success in band. "It's all about face time," he said. These kids must have been putting in a lot of face time. And they are so earnest in their playing -- I just love watching them. Their performance was every bit as enjoyable to me as going to the symphony.