Strike up the bands

It seems like an idea that simply should not work.

Take a group of 100 hand-selected high school music students from a dozen schools, put them together for the first time, give them a few hours to rehearse with a new band director – then perform a concert for the public in the evening.

Yet, at the North Central Iowa Bandmasters Association Honor Band Festival held at Iowa Central Community College, this is exactly what they do.

Danny Galyen, director of the marching and symphonic bands at the University of Northern Iowa, had a ready explanation for how it all happens.

“The students here are highly motivated,” he said.

He was working with the juniors and seniors and planned on doing nothing different.

“I’ll treat the band like I do at the university,” he said. “They’re pretty much thrown into the fire.”

One of the challenges the students face is working with a new conductor. The freshman and sophomore students were being directed by Chris Crandell, of Johnston.

He began by letting them ask three questions.

They learned he likes his coffee black, wears sweat pants at home and is a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

He also has a good reason to keep his baton tucked into the back of his shirt collar.

“It’s so I don’t lose it,” he said.

As he worked with his group of students, he had one goal in mind for them.

“Remember, we want to play more than the notes,” he told them”

One of the students in his band, Lindsay Kearns, of Clear Lake, plays the contra bass clarinet. It makes incredibly deep notes and is about the same height as its player.

She was confident she would be able to play well with the band and Crandell.

“You have to get used to his ways,” she said.

Michelle Curtis, a senior at St. Edmond High School, attended the event with her flute for the third year in a row. Like Kearns, she said the process of getting to know the director was interesting.

Doing the morning auditions – where the students try out for their instruments seat order – is a less-than-fun experience.

“The most nerve racking time is auditioning,” Curtis said.

Her friend Olivia Trevino, shared the sentiment.

“We’re all nervous,” she said.

The two were enjoying another fun aspect of the day, making new friends. As they ate lunch they were getting to know Grace Steil, from Algona’s Bishop Garrigan and Rebecca Nellis, from Prairie Valley.

They also get to take something else home – tips, new ideas and inspiration.

“It keeps the fire burning,” Curtis said.

Mike Richardson, Fort Dodge Senior High School director of bands, is also the North Central Iowa Bandmasters Association president. It was a busy day for him.

He said he appreciates the challenge his students experience. The music selected is considered upper level and even though they are allowed to learn their individual parts ahead of the festival, working together with the other students is where they get to shine.

“I’m proud that our kids get to experience that,” he said.

One of his band members, Stefan Crowl, had his percussion instruments in front of him on the stage, among the more unusual, two boards with knobs that can be pounded together to make a tapping sound.

He was looking forward to the experience.

“Getting together with a group of strangers to make beautiful music is a beautiful thing,” Crowl said. “I cherish that.”