Summer shuffle to Thanksgiving march

Room 154 in John Sedgwick Junior High School, otherwise known as the band room, is not itself very pretty. Plastic soda bottles litter the tiered floor. The clock on the wall doesn’t work.

Just seconds after the school dismissal bell rings, however, the room is teeming with students frantically gathering instrument parts. Nails polished in green glitter begin feverish warmups on flutes and clarinets.

The room comes alive with the noises of cymbals, snare drums and tubas. Bandmates gossip together about the day’s events, while the subtle clicking of drum sticks seems to be coming from everywhere. Even rows appear in the tiers from nowhere. Sections begin to warm up, softly at first, then loud with other sections gradually joining in to the dominant tune.

The students play without a director, calling off songs one after another, as this is their warm-up, their stretching, their after-school practice before the big game.

Their is no marching band class at John Sedgwick Junior High School, said the band’s director Donell Nathan. The after-school rehearsals are extra-curricular.

When Nathan makes his way through room from the door at the back to the front, picking his way through the deafening expanse of tubas, trombones and saxophones, the song is more controlled, the tone more pure, the musicians more focused.

After a few more tunes and Nathan’s quick change into the characteristic white marching shoes, the band heads for the parking lot. Twenty minutes later, things are not as harmonious as he had planned.

“Left, left, left...pick your feet up.” Nathan yelled above the din of marching musicians. ”We’re not a walking band, we are a marching band.”

Some time later, Nathan calls a five-minute break. After all, he needs one too.

It’s not easy to direct 50 junior high students in anything, much less a choreographed dance that’s a part of the band’s marching cadence.

However, a majority of these students, divided into 10 rows of five, came together to win a first-place award at the Hyack Festival competition in New Westminster, B.C., last spring. Soon afterwards, the band was invited to perform in this year’s Bon-Macy’s Holiday Parade in downtown Seattle.

Nathan said he knows the band can do well again.

Today, however, Nathan knows what he wants, and he’s not getting it. But he knows how to get it. He’s been at the junior high for 10 years. He stops the band in the middle of the song and total silence descends. Students look down nervously to make sure they’re spaced exactly four feet apart on all sides.

As Nathan walks through the rows toward the drum section, rows of eyes avoid meeting his gaze. After a few inaudible words to the offending member, his head snapped up.

“You have to start thinking out here,” Nathan said. “You have to practice at home.”

Drilling down the house

Debbie Kehrer knows all about the John Sedgwick Junior High School Marching Band, since her daughter plays the French horn in it. Kehrer is also a seventh-grade teacher at the junior high, working with students in language arts, literature and special education.

However, her main concern is the 40 girls to whom she devotes most of her time. As the coach of the John Sedgwick Junior High School Drill Team, she is also excited to have been invited to march with the band in the Thanksgiving parade.

“We’ve been marching with them two days a week,” Kehrer said. “(Marching) is something that’s going to be challenging, but it’s going to be good because (the drill team) has never done it before.”

Kehrer said she holds Donell Nathan in the highest regard, not only for his work with the members of the band, but also for his understanding of the groups’ differing styles.

“He wants them to have their own style, and they do,” Kehrer said. “They have a routine for all the songs.”

According to Kehrer, there are no cheerleading squads at the junior high level in the South District School District, although one wouldn’t know it with the team’s short-skirted, shell-topped uniforms.

Squad members have been busy lately, attending football and basketball games, cheering one their peers. Since the team’s season usually lasts from August to February due to several girls’ desire to play spring sports, the team has never gotten the chance to march in a spring parade with the marching band.

“The girls have been working on this for (only) a week and a half,” Kehrer said. “All of our routines are created by our captains. We have one captain and two co-captains.”

There are 40 girls on the drill team, all between the ages of 13 and 15 years old. Kehrer chose the girls from a group of 80 who turned out for the squad.

“I had to turn 50 away,” Kehrer said.

Along with three music technicians and a manager, the team manages to keep up with its busy schedule. Unfortunately, Kehrer said the team must also find time to practice new routines, like the ones it will use in the parade.

“These guys have worked really hard,” Kehrer said.

The team meets three days a week at 6:30 a.m. to practice before school. The team also meets five times a year for an all-day Saturday practice.

“We get more gym time if we do mornings,” Kehrer said.

But with all the practicing, the preparation and the drive in the world, both the drill team and the marching band have benefited from outside funding that allows outings such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade to be a reality for the students.

Every school year, Nathan receives only $1,000 from the school to buy new music and instruments and to spend on travel. In a world where one instrument can easily cost $1,000 — or more — all by itself, that’s not much.

No one said being a musician was cheap. A Music Booster Club helps make up the difference, conducting fundraisers and ensuring the students’ year in the marching band is memorable.

Nathan may seem militant when he’s directing, but the patience and pride shine through when he speaks of how far they’ve come. His laughter is infectious.

“From the top,” Nathan yelled. “We can do this. We will do this.”

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