Today was our first day getting out and teaching. After a long battle with internet connections and jet lag, we were finally ready to hit the road with our instruments (and our jackets) !
First, we found our way to Bishops high school for boys. The sun was met with equally warm welcomes as we entered the music building on campus, greeted by Andrea, the teacher for the school’s jazz band. Andrea confessed to us that she knew very little about jazz, as she is a classically trained musician. Jazz is a language of music all about the feel. This is something that Andrea knows and was wonderfully eager to learn from us about. About twelve students of different ages bustled into the sunlit room and immediately got out their instruments and into their arrangements. The pianist, Michael, told us he had just returned from Berklee’s 5-week program in Boston and had fallen in love with the school. What a great way to start our time! Andrea asked the boys to take out their first piece, “Jazz Police,” and requested that we listen to their performance and give some feed back. The song was played very well as far as notes, but was seriously lacking some dynamics and energy. A very eager Bobby Gallegos jumped right on this opportunity. Bobby is a trumpeter and an ensemble professor at Berklee, all about energy. This was made clear by the exorbitant amount that poured out of him during our time at Bishops. Bobby encouraged the students to play out and with conviction; what he calls graduating from the ‘University of Strong and Wrong.’ Manuel Kaufmann, an Arranging teacher at Berklee, filled in on bass for the ensemble’s missing player. He acted as a wonderful example of what articulation sounds like in the notes (even though Manuel was sight-reading!). What was really exciting was that Andrea would chime in with questions about accents and articulations, allowing Winnie and Bobby to really delve deep into the feel of the piece, with eager audience members to take it all in. One of the biggest changes that was made was one of the smallest and easiest ones of all. A few runs of the piece in, Winnie asked the drummer to pull his kit back from the front, and angled. This way, he was a part of the rhythm section and could see both the bass player, as well as the rest of the band. This made such a huge difference in his playing and in the unity of the band. After some work on the coherence of the horns section and a few bad drummer jokes later, the band really started to sound like a band. There was finally life coming through the instruments with the new use of dynamics and a new feel running through every player. We then moved on to the next piece, ‘One Note Samba,’ which was met with new outlooks and more vigorous intentions. Winnie, Bobby, and Manuel made a few tweaks of similar nature, working with the new Bossa feel. When it was time to go, the boys were all really eager to come up and talk to the team. After this, the teachers invited us to talk about music education over some tea and coffee. There was a mutual excitement in the room as we discussed the future of Skype lessons and careers in the music industry.
Next, we rolled on to Rondebosch Boys’ High School. Here, they are very fortunate to have a great practice stage for their jazz bands. We were told by the head of the music department that the main jazz band was not in attendance, as it consists mostly of seniors who are studying for their final exams. However, about 10 of the students studying jazz came to work with us and we were very excited to get started. We started by playing two impromptu tunes for the boys; an ensemble consisting of Bobby on trumpet, Manuel on bass, Winnie on vibes, me (Tash) on voice, and a sit in on drums by one of the students, Thomas. After this, we invited the students to take out their instruments and take the stage. They played “All Blues” for us, a tune that they all knew and we went from there. These were less trained ensemble members, so a lot of what Bobby talked to them about was listening to each other and watching and understanding the form and the music. Winnie took two of the boys to work on improvisation, something that the classically trained students had never worked with before. Meanwhile, Manuel, Bobby, and I continued to work with the band on their tunes, giving some insight into anticipations, breaks in the music, and even some visual cues to watch for when working with singers.
We finished up our day by welcoming the rest of our group from the airport, Steve and Marko, and making our plans for tomorrow.