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Amanda Raymond column: Small band, big sound

Salisbury High School’s marching band is small, there is no way around it. It only has about a dozen members. But for a small band, they make a lot of noise. And the noise is actually really good.

Salisbury High’s marching band, and music program as a whole, is definitely on the upswing. Jennifer Pfaff, president of the Band Boosters, said the band has lost many members over the years, but has experienced some positives.

Their small numbers make it easier to make close connections within the group.

“They’re all a close-knit little group of friends. They’ve made their own little tribe within Salisbury High,” Pfaff said.

Drum Major Quson Brown, a senior this year, agreed, saying he is sad that he will be leaving the group next year.

“It’s just like we’re a big family,” he said.

And a small group means more one-on-one attention, leading to better musicians.

“In the midst of (losing members), the kids have gotten to be really good musicians,” Pfaff said.

Salisbury High School Band Director Michael Thomas was always a band person, but he never thought he would have to teach chorus as well. He is the only band director in the area that has to do so because of Salisbury High’s combined band and chorus program.

“My kids are learning to sing but my piano skills aren’t helping them that much,” he said.

Thomas said the music program has grown since he’s been there. He is the sixth or seventh director the school has had in 10 years. It’s now Thomas’ third year at the school, which is probably the longest a director has been at the school for a while, Thomas said.

“So far this year, the band’s about doubled in size,” Thomas said. His concert band and chorus now have 60 students each, and there are also 25 students in his music appreciation class.

“It’s been a continuous effort to try and build it up because when I got here it was pretty small,” he said.

Thomas said he tries to teach the kids to appreciate the integrity of music. He stole a quote that one of his college professors used from the Tanglewood Symposium, a 1967 conference in which the role of music education in American society was discussed. Thomas has the quote hung up in his office. It reads, “Music serves best when its integrity as an art is maintained.”

“We try to do fun stuff, but still, the integrity of what we do is very, very fundamental,” Thomas said.

In his classes, he makes sure the students focus on not just their own music, but the sound of the group as a whole. Sometimes Thomas will have the class do an exercise in which they close their eyes and he taps a student on the shoulder and tells him or her to play a wrong note in a certain place. The group then plays or sings the music and has to point out what was wrong with what someone played and where the wrong note came from.

He sets up Skype sessions with different people like band directors and allows the students to perform new music from composers like John Mackey. There is a lot more going on in the world than the music the students are playing or singing at Salisbury High, and Thomas wants to show them that.

All of that is making Salisbury High’s band into a group of great musicians, and others are taking notice.

“People go, ‘They’re so small but they sound so good,’” Pfaff said.

What the music program needs now is support from the community. Thomas said the students need things like reeds, mouthpieces and music stands, and the piano also needs tuning.

Thomas said the music program is a part of the community, and they need the community’s support.

“If anyone in the community wants to help us out, we would greatly appreciate it,” he said.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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