Story and photos by Casey Lessard
“Two years ago in Cleveland, I met Benjamin Washington by happenstance,” says South Huron music teacher and band director Isaac Moore, speaking of Chicago King College Prep High School’s band director. “He needed a bass amp and I needed a trumpet, so we ended up talking and exchanging instruments for an hour or so. Because of that, we ended up talking about where each of us was from and how neat it would be if we tried to do something together. ”
Each year, South Huron’s music department takes a trip, but most of the recent trips have been for competitions.
“We could have done that again this year. But I wanted to give the kids a varied experience; we had never gone to Chicago, and a lot of kids were interested in going there.”
Sixty-six members of the band joined the trip, along with eight chaperones. The visit to America’s third largest city included sightseeing, a trip to the famed Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Sears Tower, and lots of music. The band performed all day its second day, starting with a master class at a college for music teachers, followed by a jazz combo performance at Buddy Guy’s Legends bar. Then it was off to King College Prep for an afternoon and evening collaboration, which started with watching the one of the city’s best marching bands practise.
“Our marching band is everywhere, winning competitions,” says Benjamin Washington. “We’re like the Soul Train of Chicago. Just last year, we opened for the Stone Temple Pilots concert, Wynton Marsalis dropped by and played with us here. [U.S. President Obama’s house] is about three or four blocks from here. Marching around in the summer time, we would pass by it. I didn’t even know he lived there until the presidential election.”
Whether Obama ever noticed King’s marching band or not, percussionist Joe Pavkeje of Exeter found it valuable to see how King’s musicians perform, bobbing their heads while playing.
“It showed we could be doing a lot of things we’re not doing. Not that we’re not doing enough, but they have a different style that I thought was interesting. They really got into their music, which helps them with their stage presence. It makes them sound better. If they’re more into it, it makes it more enjoyable for everybody.”
While Pavkeje noticed the contrasts, Moore hopes he also noticed the similarities.
“We often think these major cities are better than what we’re doing here. Rural schools are have not and city schools are have. It shows the kids how special this school is and gives them perspective on how great they’re doing and how wonderful the music they’re doing is.”
Kristy Pavkeje is thankful for the experience, and knows who should get the credit.
“It’s a really high quality program. If you look around (elsewhere in our region), we seem to be more dedicated or something. A lot of that is due to Mr. Moore. He knows how to get the most out of this program for us. With the SHSM (Specialist High Skills Major) program (in Arts & Culture), it looks good when you go to university or college, and he worked hard to get it at the school.”
For Moore’s part, he notes he couldn’t pull it off without the overwhelming support of the community.
“The community is so, so important to what we’re doing here. They support our concerts to show our kids that what they’re doing is important. The fact that we have this extremely supportive community and excellent tradition of music at this school, it’s a machine that doesn’t seem to stop. Every day I come here, I don’t know who I’m thanking, but I’m thanking someone.”
Moore is eager to show the music program’s supporters what King College Prep is doing, and hopes Washington is able to bring his students to Exeter next year.
“Having the opportunity to see their marching band and the enthusiasm they have for music, it was infectious. Our kids loved watching their band perform, and this community would love seeing it, too. It’s really fun to watch.”
Washington is on board, too, and hopes it can happen.
“It gives the kids the opportunity to see children from other areas and see we’re doing the same thing,” he says. “I’m sure Mr. Moore is saying the same things: you’ve got to practise, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to watch the rhythms. It gives the children a chance to see that what I’m trying to provide for them is what others are trying to do as well.”
Looking back on the trip, Moore hopes his students got enough time to interact with their Chicago counterparts.
“The students said the best part of the trip was socializing with students from the other school, and you can’t plan that. It would have been nice to have more time for that. It’s through that social bond that they see that we’re doing the same things here.”