For Rachel Weatherly, a beautiful blonde and talented saxophone player, Saturday’s concert in Pine for the Big Band Music Machine played bitter sweet.
The concert wrapped up her Payson musical career. In a week she’ll head off to ASU to pursue a degree in dentistry.
“I love playing my sax and singing, too. Mr. (Mike) Buskirk has been one of my teachers since the sixth grade,” said Weatherly.
Her experience with the band brought her friends, challenges and many performances — including a gig this summer at Disneyland.
The organizers of the Fire on the Rim race invited the band to play as part of the festivities surrounding their event. The ensemble put on a 90-minute show for a crowd at the Pine school auditorium. They performed rock, swing, doo-wop, blues and Latin rhythms, with a selection of songs from a spread of decades ranging from the ’40s to the ’80s.
The band has performed before dozens of audiences, with all their expenses, except Mike Buskirk’s salary, donated by the community — much of it through the Credit For Kids state tax credit system.
Patty York and Vicki LaDewski drove from Payson to enjoy the show. Both ladies sing with the Community Chorus and know the Buskirk family well through that organization.
“We read about the concert in the paper and decided to come up and listen,” said LaDewski.
Tapping their toes and giggling at the antics on stage, the two ladies and the crowd lost themselves in the pure pleasure of the music.
Mike Buskirk, musical teacher for the Payson elementary and middle schools acted as emcee for the concert sharing anecdotes between numbers, which allowed the band to swap instruments or change into costumes during the concert.
In one narrative, Mike Buskirk described how foreign exchange students constantly request to “stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona and go on Route 66,” as the band struck up songwriter Bobby Troup’s “Route 66” song.
Weatherly stood center stage and sang Ella Fitzgerald’s “How High the Moon” then changed into a festive Latin outfit to sing, dance, and act out Barry Manilow’s Latin rhythm song “Copacabana” with Kit and John Buskirk.
The band’s rich sound comes from a strong brass section including trumpets, trombones, saxophones, and a French horn. Other instruments include keyboards, a guitar, drums, marimba, and various musical toys including a cowbell, chimes and tambourine.
This year a trip to Disneyland to perform offered Weatherly and the other graduating seniors a chance to show off their talent one last time in a famous venue.
Getting into the park proved a challenge, though. Disney required recordings of music, videos of concerts and learning Disney scores, said Mike Buskirk before the group played “Kiss the Girl” from the Little Mermaid.
The amusement park also had stringent guidelines on how the band had to conduct itself. The performance, set up and take down each could take no more than half an hour and all costume changes had to occur on stage.
Disney also had decorum guidelines, explained Mike Buskirk.
Staff members stationed themselves backstage to ensure that the band didn’t do or say anything inappropriate. This being their job, the two Disney employees had seen many groups, which made them a bit jaded, yet the Payson band, with their enthusiasm and talent, broke through the reserve of the staff:
“Disney had us perform in a back lot of the new California Adventure Park early in the morning. They have strict guidelines on quality control. As we started up our sets, the two staff assigned to us studiously and with great solemnity checked off different line items as we played. However, after a couple of songs, I looked over and saw that they had put down their clipboards and were bumping their hips together to the rhythm of our music. As we ended our performance they came up to me and gushed, ‘We’ve heard many acts, but yours rocked. You must come back to play again!’” said Mike Buskirk a proud gleam in his eye.
Mike Buskirk will have more to be proud of when the Big Band Music Machine has the honor of playing in Hawaii on Dec. 7 at the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Throughout the show, the infectious enjoyment of the music permeated the crowd in the auditorium. Toes tapped, hands clapped, and many sang the lyrics to songs they knew such as Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
More importantly, the kids enjoyed themselves. Smiling, beaming, and playing their hearts out, the performance offered the band members a chance to entertain their families and friends.
As Weatherly prepares to move on to the next phase of her life, music won’t play such a pivotal role, but because of her time with the Big Band Music Machine, music will always be a part of her life.
“I won’t play my sax for ASU, but hopefully I’ll find a community band to play in,” said Weatherly.
The Big Band Music Machine has about half of the funds needed to make the trip to Pearl Harbor. If you’d like to support their journey, please contact Daria Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org.