La Bomba Go Boomba: an inside look at NLA musicians @ the UMD Honors Band Festival

On November 9th, students from the Upper School band were nominated to go the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).  The nominees were: Spencer Hammersten (11) , Spencer Stanley (12), Kallee Buske (10) , and Logan Haller (10). This player-written feature describes their experiences there.

Transportation (Non)Issues

The date and location of the festival required a little creative maneuvering to get everyone there.  Students who had to be at rehearsals for the Honors Band Festival, which began on the 8th, faced a dilemma because the NLA band concert was November 7th. Director Katie Theis apologized for this; however, grossly exaggerated as the inconvenience of the timing was by some of the students, it managed to work out for a few of them.

Several students went up the night before.  Hammersten and his mother were happy to do so because they were able to get there the night before and arrived at their hotel before 10:00 p.m. Haller drove up to the UMD with Stanley and his mother. They were also able to get to their hotel, The Edgewater Hotel,  before 10:00 and a long night of last minute Pokemon battles ensued until 11:30.

Bassoon Groupies

On November 8th, the hard work began with registration at 8:30 a.m. All participants were given name tags, maps of the campus, and directions to their assigned practice halls. The only Maroon Band member, Stanley, was told to stay in Marshall Hall and join his fellow bassoon players, who are a rare breed. They are so rare, in fact, that Stanley quickly earned a nickname.

“That morning and the next few days I remember being known as “The Bassoon Player” at the hotel Logan and I were staying at. I guess I became so famous because bassoon is such a rare instrument.”

Later, Stanley was asked by a large group of girls what instrument he played. When he told them, they all cheered and gave incredulous looks followed by compliments and wishes for good luck.

Auditions Go Boomba

The other three band members, Haller, Hammersten, and Buske, were destined for the Gold Band. Each had to go through auditions that helped the directors learn the skill levels of musicians (most or all of whom they had just met).  For clarinetists Hammersten and Buske, chair placement was also determined by this audition. Hammersten was ecstatic about his chair placement, because he was able to get first clarinet, second chair, a huge leap from where he was last year: second clarinet, fourth chair in the Maroon Band.

For percussionists, the audition process determined what parts one would be getting; each musician auditioned on his or her favorite instruments, because the percussion section has many.  Haller received parts for the drum set and the bomba – a large heavy drum with a deep sound that is played with huge mallets.

His motto quickly became, “La bomba go boomba.”

The Maestro

The conductor for the Gold Band was a guest conductor from Brazil, an  instrumentalist. He was referred to as “The Maestro” by most of the students and some of the staff. “The Maestro” did not take offense to this. Rather, he thought it was funny. The UMD had  a solid relationship with him from past concert experiences and it wanted to play some Latin/South American music for the Festival concert.  One of those pieces was “Suite Nordestina.”

“It was a very upbeat Latin piece with many layers of rhythms and harmonies that were beautifully played at the concert,” said Thies.

Epic clarinet parts and water park shenanigans

Hammersten, Haller, and Stanley met at the cafeteria for a meal.   As the the three of them conversed at lunch, they talked about their experience: what practice was like, what their favorite music was, etc.

Hammerstein said, quite often and quite passionately, “’Lord Tullamore’ is my favorite piece because of the EPIC clarinet part in it. I also like the rhythm  intensity in it as well.”

After lunch was more rehearsal and then most of the Honors Band students went back to their hotels to eat and sleep to get ready for the next day because they were so tired. Hammerstein, Buske, and their families followed this idea. They and their families went out to Red Lobster for dinner and then went to sleep.

Haller and Stanley had other plans.

The pair decided that they were entitled to a few hours of relaxation at the hotel’s indoor water park.  The hotel, trying to draw in as many visiting Honor Band students as possible, was offering a complimentary ticket to the indoor water park for each person.

Haller and Stanley went into the water park and enjoyed bending the waterside rules (going down backwards with eyes closed). They also enjoyed the hot tub and lazy river.  The evening ended with Pokemon games.

Seasoned musicians learn new tricks

The following day, all of the students were to return to their practice hall to do some last minute, which was closer to 5 hours worth, of rehearsals before that night’s concert. Everything went about the same as the day before, except, after lunch, all the students of the same instrument or section were to meet in selected rooms with teachers for “section rehearsals.” Hammerstein and Buske learned some great new techniques for their instruments.

“I learned from the clarinet professor-his name escapes me- the difference between playing down and playing out,” Hammersten said. “He said something like this, most beginning clarinetists will try forcing as much air into their instrument as possible in order to play higher notes, but there is a much easier way to do it. He said to play ‘out instead of down.” In other words, it is easier to play the clarinet’s higher notes by shrinking the amount of air going through one’s mouth and increasing the pressure at which it is coming out instead of forcing as much air as possible very quickly through the instrument. Interesting side note: this can cause lightheadedness as well as some dizziness for newer players.

Stanley also learned some new techniques, but he was more focused on the fact that he was surrounded by his instrument, which is so rarely seen. In fact, he was not only surrounded by this instrument, he was surrounded by high quality versions of it. Therefore, the major point that Stanley took away from his sectionals rehearsal was this: “I need to buy a new, better bassoon…”

Your destination is invalid

The concert took place at Marshall Hall and kicked off with quite a long speech given by “The Maestro” about his travel and how he enjoyed working at the UMD over the past few days.  Much more memorable than that, however, was the impromptu performance that happened next.

After the Maestro was done giving his profound speech and as the band was waiting in that dead silence that comes right before a song starts, the most unbelievable thing happened: a cell phone went off. It wasn’t just anyone’s cell phone: it belonged to a French horn player who was on the stage.  Furthermore, it wasn’t just any ringtone, either.

“Your destination is invalid” Siri informed the musician, the electronic voice echoing off the walls of the auditorium.

The audience burst into laughter, but the conductor was not so happy. “The Maestro” stared at the poor French horn player so coldly that, Haller recalled, “…it was surprising that she didn’t start crying.” As she tried to turn off her phone, it made loud *beeps* and *boops*.  By this point, not only was the band struggling to hold it together, but “The Maestro” was struggling to find a balance between mirth and outrage as he stared down at the errant musician.  He settled for “very sick” looking.

 “All I could think about while we were playing the first song, ‘Lord Tullamore’ was ‘Did that really just happen?” Hammersten said.

The rest of the concert went smoothly.

Everyone agreed that they would be more than willing to go again next year.

“It’s sad because I really enjoyed going and performing at UMD, but now that I’m a senior, I won’t be able to,” said Stanley.  “I’ll miss it.”

Thies has agreed to send students to the UMD Honors Band Festival next year.

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