When this year’s Memorial Day Parade arrives at the American Legion Hall in Tenants Harbor, a number of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts will dash out of line and join their fellow St. George School middle-level band members who will already be in place ready to be part of the annual Memorial Day program.
“Concert dress is normally black and white,” acknowledges Carolyn Kanicki, the school’s band teacher, “but a lot of these kids are involved with scouting or with the Little League game after the ceremony, so they come dressed for those roles—but they still also fulfill their commitment to play in the band. It’s a non-school day, but last year we had 100 percent participation.” She says there were also some high school students who had previously been St. George School band members who joined in.
The tradition of having the school band perform at the Memorial Day ceremonies in St. George began more than 10 years ago, when the Midcoast Community Band was unable to participate after many years of doing so. “So Dana Smith came to me and asked if the school band could play,” Kanicki recalls.
The community response then was very positive and now the school band’s participation is something that’s expected with anticipation. “It is something that parents are aware of, so they don’t schedule something else,” Kanicki says. “I just love it. To me it’s that true community event and the school community is a part of it. It’s important for the kids to know this is part of Memorial Day.”
While a lot of people might love to have the St. George School middle-level band march in the Memorial Day parade, Kanicki shakes her head. “We’re a sitting band, not a marching band. There is a lot that goes into the marching, like having to get special percussion instruments and special music holders. Marching is really more of a high school thing. Also, at this stage, I’d hate to take time away from our students’ focus on the music.”
Practice is the key to achieving a good musical performance, Kanicki points out. The full middle-level band, consisting of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, practices three times a week for 45 or 50 minutes each time (when the St. George School was part of RSU 13, the band could practice only two times a week). Then, the different sections of the band—flutes, clarinets, saxophones, drums—have half hour sessions once a week. Kanicki also offers free after-school lessons on a sign-up basis for any band student who would like extra help.
Now that the St. George School again includes 8th grade students, Kanicki notes, there is the added benefit of having kids who are into their fourth year of playing an instrument be part of the mix. “Having the 8th graders makes a big difference,” she stresses. “The younger kids kind of look up to them to understand what’s involved. The 6th graders, especially, have a difficult transition to make from their first year of playing in 5th grade, when everyone plays in unison, to the more complicated music played by the middle-level band.”
When a 5th grade student decides to give band a try, Kanicki works with them to figure out which instrument feels right for them. This can lead to some imbalances in the various sections, but Kanicki has been pleased by a recent trend of students choosing instruments in the lower registers. “Having a tuba is new this year,” Kanicki says with clear enthusiasm. “I think that instrument sat in a corner for as long as I’ve been here, which is 25 years. But Caleb Wight spotted it and took it home and cleaned it up and started playing it. And we now also have two tenor saxophones and a bass clarinet, so getting that lower voice has been making a big difference in the sound.”
Kanicki handed out the playlist for the Memorial Day performance to the band members at the beginning of April. During the ceremony the band will play the “Star Spangled Banner,” the “Marches of the Armed Forces” (when veterans will be invited to step forward), and “Arrival at Normandy.” After the ceremony the band will play a short concert that will include some marches and perhaps a rendition of “Grand Old Flag” and “Along the Beaches of Normandy.” —JW
(The Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 30 begins at 9am.)
PHOTOS: Top, Sonja Schmanska, bottom, Julie Wortman