Been There, Done That

By: Brian Golden

Been there, done that

I must say I feel for the students, parents and educators who have done their damnedest to effect change in regards to the Norwich City School District’s schedule for the 2011-2012 school year. Their worry? That the schedule, as it stands, will have a decidedly negative impact on the high school’s music program. And they’re absolutely right ... it will.

This is the part where I stick my thumbs in my ears, wiggle my fingers and – not that it makes me happy – tell the district’s Board of Education, as well as its administration that – in the not-too-distant-future – I’ll be able to say “I told you so.”

Not that they’ll listen, I’m afraid. How can I be so sure? Because I went through the same nonsense nearly two decades ago. I know exactly where these (extremely talented) kids are coming from.

In other words, I’ve been there. I’ve done that.

A little history. I joined the NHS Jazz Ensemble way-back-when in the 10th grade. I’ve written before how – on one random afternoon – former music director Don Burke unexpectedly called me into his office. At the time, I figured the poor guy was – to put it mildly – sick of my never-ending use of the school’s music hallway as my own personal rehearsal space (I spent hours there perfecting my novice guitar skills, such as they were). Little did I know, however, the man had plans for me.

It turns out those plans were not only life-changing, but put me on the road to becoming the musician (not to mention the person) I am today. I can’t thank him (as well as Mary Mayo and – to a lesser extent – Mark Sands) enough for that.

To make a long story short, our Jazz Ensemble was – to put it mildly – extremely talented. I can still, to this day, name each and every member of those two groups (my sophomore and junior years at NHS), not to mention the instrument (or instruments) they played. Ours was an impressive unit, once we realized just how good Mr. Burke was at preparing a small group of “squares” and turning them into a swinging, swaggering group of jazzsters. Don’t believe me? Just ask any member of either of those ensembles about our 1993, Sherburne Pageant of the Bands performance of “Fascinating Rhythm” or our rendition of “Pressure Cooker” the following year. That second performance, in fact, broke a long-standing record for jazz ensemble at the pageant, one that had stood for nearly 50 years, if I remember right.

My senior year, however (which should have been spent perfecting what we’d put so much time and effort into the previous two years), found the Norwich City School District making changes to its schedule (what a coincidence). To be more specific, the powers-that-be had neglected to schedule a large number of juniors and seniors into a music or art class prior to their graduation (a requisite at the time). To make up for that lack of foresight, they pegged Mr. Burke for extra duties, which resulted in the disbanding of the Jazz, Percussion, Brass and Wind Ensembles.

We (the school’s actual musicians) were disappointed, to say the least.

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