• Homer hosted bands from across the Kenai Peninsula for a 12-hour event
When the Kenai Peninsula Borough Middle School Mass Band Concert is in the practicing stages, band teachers have a challenge at hand to teach an ambitious slate of music to their many students, beginning in February.
Then comes the big concert, the massive undertaking of bringing all bands in the district together as one powerful sound made up of 240 instruments. Each spring, all seven middle schools come together. This year, Homer Middle School was joined by Chapman, Ninilchik, Nikiski, Kenai, Soldotna and Seward in practice and performance May 1 at Homer High School.
“It’s a big effort, one of the highlights of the year,” said Homer Middle School Principal David Larson.
Homer Middle and Homer High School Band teacher Amy Christianson helped plan the largest band event by introducing her own former band teacher to the district: Clinician Russell Veale has followed a rich and varied teaching career for 34 years. He received the Excellence in Teaching Award from Houghton High School, the Michigan School Board District Teacher of the Year Award and was a Michigan Blue Ribbon Teacher. All that, plus he was Christianson’s mentor, the teacher who influenced her most.
“When (Kenai Central Band Teacher) Renee Henderson puts the big picture stuff together for Mass Band, we are asked about possible clinicians,” Christianson said. “I tossed in his name. (Russell Veale) was my band teacher from the time I was in the 6th grade until I graduated. New names are always good, and we brought him up here.”
Christianson, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in May of 2009 with her degree in music education, gave a special introduction to Veale for the concert audience.
It was a long day’s work for all the 240 students. They gathered at 8:30 a.m. at Homer High School. Over the winter, each school band learned two pieces they would play as an individual school. Then, they are given three songs to practice that will be played en masse.
“They are responsible for practicing and knowing the songs. There is only one day of rehearsal for all of them together,” Christianson said. “That way, they are not learning it then. The clinician then can start working on more of the nuances. He works on the balance. Some schools have 15 bands members and now they are in a band of 240. He works to blend and he’s listening for the parts, making sure they are doing the dynamics and the tempo changes together.”
The 4-1/2 hours of rehearsal time is broken up by stories Veale tells the students from his long musical career. They break each hour, and lunch is in there as well. The day is meant to be inspirational, showing the students what they can do with music as a large body dedicated to each song.
The “clinician” acts as the conductor for the Mass Band Concert, which meant taking that gym full of students, most of whom had never met before, and coordinating them through three complex pieces.
He chose “Emblem of Victory” by Elliot del Borgo, “Above the World” by Rob Grice and “Majestia” by James Swearingen.
Veale won Christianson’s heart and admiration as her mentor for many years. He taught band when she joined in the sixth grade. Then, in her junior year, Veale let her co-teach with him.
At the close of the concert, it was Veale’s turn to say thank you. He told the parents his pleasure in seeing Alaska for the first time and “for the joy of letting me teach your children.”
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