Organized chaos descends: Uniform fitting, lighting, microphones, marching to the correct spot on stage, music memorization, equipment moved and set up, printing programs and certificates printed and folded.
All represent activities necessary for a Rim Country Middle School concert to fly — but there’s more.
Memory loss, dropped music, malfunctioning music stands, boredom, tears, stuck valves, bad rhythm and prayers also enliven the preparations.
Mike Buskirk, music director for RCMS takes on all of these preparations into account with aplomb. After teaching music for 27 years, he’s learned to trust that when the curtain goes up and the house is full, the students will rise to the occasion to put on a great show.
But to watch the beginning band practice at its dress rehearsal makes one wonder at Buskirk’s confidence.
On the afternoon before the fall concert, more than 20 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders walk over to the high school auditorium from the RCMS band room to prepare for their first concert. The students have played for an audience twice before this, once at the Arizona State Fair, and once marching at a Longhorn football game, but this will be their first time on stage.
Both performances and preparations teach children valuable lessons.
According to a study by Brian D. Ebie of the University of Arizona, “Subjects reported that playing a sport or performing in an ensemble helped them experience positive feelings about themselves, and provided them with achievable goals — musical or athletic — that also contributed to feelings of personal satisfaction and well-being.”
The article, “Twelve Benefits of Music Education,” published by the Children’s Music Workshop, describes several benefits students of music enjoy.
They learn how to put details together to create good, not just mediocre work. Students discover that a mistake is simply a mistake. They see the rewards of hard work. As a band, they experience teamwork and discipline. The focus is on doing rather than observing — and they learn to conquer fear and take risks.
Paul McCartney was quoted as saying, “I love to hear a choir. I love the humanity ... to see the faces of real people devoting themselves to a piece of music. I like the teamwork. It makes me feel optimistic about the human race when I see them cooperating like that.”
Of course, this same sentiment applies to a band.
Inside the auditorium, Buskirk continues the dress rehearsal, lining up the band members down the wings of the stage to practice their entrance.
“You’re on the inside, she’s on the outside,” he explains.
The students whisper, giggle and shuffle their feet as they wait. Buskirk moves around the stage, assessing the set up of the chairs and music stands.
“As soon as they’re done singing, you move onto the stage,” he explains.
The RCMS chorus will perform prior to the beginning band at the evening show in front of the curtain. The beginning band will enter behind the curtain and set up to play.
“Don’t move that chair or someone will crash into it,” Buskirk warns the band members.
The students mill about, unsure of exactly where to place themselves. Buskirk quickly sets them straight.
“There’s a chair there — cool. Which way is forward? Cool. Now, keep moving,” he says.
The kids sit down and the fun begins.
One student decides to play a song not on the concert program. As she confidently blares out the notes, the percussion players look at each other in confusion as they tap out their cadence to another song. The rest of the band members hold their instruments in their laps and stare at her with their mouths open.
Finally, she realizes she’s playing alone and stops.
“Did you know that we aren’t playing that song tonight?” Buskirk asks.
She shakes her head.
“We play the next song in your book. And remember — in this one, everyone will know if you have made a mistake because they won’t see you stand up with your section,” said Buskirk.
They play the song well, but sometimes with the wrong timing because they don’t watch Buskirk’s direction.
When they stop, he faces the imaginary audience and says, “They can do much better than that, because they aren’t watching me.”
Turning back to the band he continues, “I would like to be in control — just for tonight.”
The practice continues with one student bursting into tears because her trumpet valves stick and she can’t play the notes.
Buskirk reminds her he’s told her to oil her valves repeatedly. Another student holds up an imaginary instrument because he forgot his in the band room. When he asked Buskirk to go back to the music room, Buskirk explained that once a performance starts, he cannot stop. The student practices by moving his fingers as he would on his instrument. A flute player’s eyes wander about while her legs swing in boredom as she waits for her part in the music. Buskirk brings her attention back to focus.
Completing the dress rehearsal, it seems a miracle that the band will pull it together for the show.
Buskirk shows no concern.
“This is typical ... brain dead ... no memory retention ... all perfectly normal,” he said.
Two and a half hours later, the band members return to get fitted in their uniforms.
The students help each other pull uniform jackets over their heads. Black pants and shoes complete the concert attire.
Suddenly, Buskirk notices one little boy isn’t wearing black pants. He tells him he needs to find a pair in the music room, but he can’t leave to bring the boy there. Another young man forgot a piece of equipment for percussion, another forgot his instrument.
In the end, five boys need to get into the music room before the performance. Buskirk tells them only an adult can use the keys. They go off in search of an adult and find a hapless parent trying to help get everyone ready.
The troupe sets off, enters the RCMS band room and solves all their problems moments before they are to enter onto the stage.
While the boys took care of their needs, Buskirk works with the advanced band.
“It is going to be interesting. I haven’t heard the advanced band play since November. I went away to Hawaii for a week and came back,” he said.
Buskirk went to Hawaii with his wife, Daria Mason, to perform at the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
He doesn’t have much time to worry because the cue to direct the beginning band onto the stage diverts his attention.
On stage, the choir finishes up without any interruption from the band set up. After they finish and the risers are moved off the stage, the curtain goes up and the beginning band sits in their places ready to perform.
All eyes focus on Buskirk. No one fidgets, no one drops music, no one blares out a note at the wrong time. They perform beautifully. So does the advanced band.
The audience applauds ending another successful concert.
“It was a pleasure to direct them,” said Buskirk.