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January 02, 2023

On a Less Serious Note: Hooray for Exquisitely Awful School Bands

There is a special place in heaven for 6th grade band teachers. They take children who have never held a musical instrument, teach them the basic mechanics and a few notes, and try to get something resembling a tune to come out of the kids by the time the first concert rolls around. Of course, the kids’ performance anxiety only adds to the unique character of that first performance.

An awful 6th grade concert is beautiful in its own way, and for a few of those children, the seed will be planted for them to develop genuine musical talent.

That said, let’s take a look at a couple of wonderfully awful performances.

Once you listen to this version of Jingle Bells, none other will ever compare. The true musical magic begins at the 21 second mark, and the perfectly timed clarinet squeak at the 30 second mark is the chef’s kiss.

Being a connoisseur of squeaky woodwinds, I am a huge fan of this 6th grade band and their arrangement of Hot Cross Buns in the next video. It’s a great first song for new musicians, with only three notes, all in sequence, and none of them sharp or flat.

The clarinet squeaks in this arrangement add a treble complexity in much the same way that a soprano’s descant powers the final verse of a hymn sung by a church choir.

Also, I’m hugely impressed with the trumpet player on the left, forsaking the uniform worn by all the others, while also confidently playing with her legs crossed. That cool, iconoclastic swagger will take her places in her musical career.

To the kids’ credit (and their instructor’s) their second stab at the song is much better than the first.

This next video is just a brass band, so it lacks the musical depth that squeaky woodwinds can bring to a performance, but in their role of accompanying the pianist, this band hits all the right notes. All the wrong ones too.

The most famous such band, of course, is the River City Boys Band from The Music Man.

I can’t find a video from the classic Robert Preston version, so here’s a clip of the River City Boys Band from the Matthew Broderick remake, using the “Think System” to play Minuet In G.

I wonder how many 6th grade band leaders have mumbled under their breaths, “Think children, think” before the first note of a concert.

As a palate cleanser here is an “alternate” ending to the River City Boys Band concert, using the Robert Preston clip. The fun starts at the 13 second mark.

For all the musicians out there in the horde, I offer you these simple words of advice, “Think morons, think!”

If you have any grade school band memories, let’s hear them. My favorite is the friend of mine who decided to play percussion, but she was so bad, with absolutely no sense of rhythm, that the band teacher only let her play the silent “practice pad.”

(buck.throckmorton at protonmail dot com)

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posted by Buck Throckmorton at 07:57 PM

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