The right notes

Meadville community comes together for high school, college jazz band festival

As the lights dimmed over the anticipatory expressions of high school parents in Allegheny College’s Shafer Auditorium, music began to play behind the thick curtain while players tuned instruments — one of four jazz bands was about to perform in Allegheny’s High School Jazz Band Festival.

Broken only by 10-minute intervals, during which student workers cleared and rearranged chairs and music stands on stage to prepare for each band, the festival’s performances transitioned quickly from one high school band to the next, culminating in a set from Allegheny’s own jazz ensemble.

“It’s such a wonderful experience to play for an audience who loves music, loves jazz,” said Glenn Cameron, the director of Conneaut Area Blue Note Jazz Band. “We want to thank you for the opportunity. We really appreciate it.”

The second biennial jazz band festival under the direction of Allegheny Instructor Stephen Corsi was held Thursday, March 28. In preparation for the festival, Corsi reached out to several local high schools during the summer before the 2018-19 school year, and, as he continued correspondence with the music directors of each high school, Corsi said he looked forward to involving local schools in Allegheny music in a unique way.

Meadville Area Senior High School Jazz Band, directed by Armond Walter, Maplewood Junior/Senior High School Jazz Band, directed by Jamie Gardner, and Conneaut Area Blue Note Jazz Band, directed by Cameron, performed at Allegheny for the festival, and each director joined Allegheny’s band on stage for the final performance.

“I think a large part of (the festival) is the idea of bringing people together for a common goal, harnessing the talents and skills of these kids … to promote their programs, not only at their schools, but to promote our program (at Allegheny),” Corsi said. “(It’s about) us bringing out groups … and people realizing the value of music education in public schools.”

Lauren Trimber
Directed by Glenn Cameron, Conneaut Area Blue Note Jazz Band performed during Allegheny’s High School Jazz Band Festival on March 28, 2019, in Shafer Auditorium.

After working for public schools for over three decades, Corsi said he is aware of how music programs are being cut from curricula. Because of the growing problem, Corsi and his students, as musicians, are the best advocates for music programs, according to Corsi — they all must work together to promote their product, their music.

“We really have to push these programs,” Corsi said. “It’s a really good way to reach out to the community. There’s a lot involved in it.”

For the past two festivals, Corsi has gotten three to four local high school bands to play music at Allegheny, and the preparation needed to organize four different bands in a two-hour performance is extensive, according to Corsi.  

“There’s a lot involved in it,” Corsi said. “Everything has to be timed perfectly so that when the first group is done, the second is ready to go. There’s a host of students helping with the event. It’s nice to go out to an event, but you want it to be memorable.”  

Percussionist Jakob Drozd, ’21, said he enjoyed the jazz band festival, despite the long work day. Like Corsi, Drozd found one of the festival’s biggest challenges to be organization, but under Corsi’s direction, the performances went smoothly.

“(Corsi) is very, very organized,” Drozd said. “He assigned us jobs. It was a lot of organizing the equipment and getting equipment (into Shafer).”

Lauren Trimber
Maplewood Junior/Senior High School Jazz Band, directed by Jamie Gardner, joined Allegheny’s High School Jazz Band Festival.

Part of the planning revolved around preparing the stage for the size of each school’s band. While Conneaut Area Blue Note’s band had 40 students, Maplewood Junior/Senior High School brought 20 students — which meant, according to Drozd, student workers had to rearrange the number and set up of chairs on stage during the brief break between performances.

“It was a challenge, but with all of us helping, it went smoothly,” Drozd said.

Amidst the required preparation and setup, Drozd said his favorite part of the festival was playing Allegheny’s final song, “Chameleon.”

“It’s a classic jazz standard,” Drozd said. “That’s always fun to play. At the end of the concert, all of the high schools were in the auditorium watching us play. It took a lot of set up and coordination, but coming in the end and playing the last number we played was the most fun.”

During “Chameleon,” high school directors Walter, Cameron and Gardner performed with Allegheny students. Before the festival, however, the directors did not have a chance to rehearse with Allegheny’s band, though Drozd said he felt the performance went smoothly.

“They’re music educators,” Drozd said. “For them, it’s pretty easy to just kind of fit right into the ensemble.”

Noah Dawgiello, ’19, had similar thoughts on performing with the three community directors.

“I believe we assumed it would be more difficult than it was — meeting these people for the first time, except for Armond, walking on for what is quite a difficult piece, having never played with them before,” Dawgiello said. “However, they were all three very much conscientious performers, listening to our band and adapting to our style. It went quite smoothly.”  

Describing the performance as “extremely smooth,” Dawgiello said the festival was a good way for Allegheny to reach out to Meadville, especially high school music performers.

“As a strong supporter of the connection between the school and community, it was very encouraging to see such participation of Meadville and the adolescents of Crawford County in engaging with the students of Allegheny college,” Dawgiello said. “A thorough crossover rarely seen.”

Both Dawgiello and Drozd experienced their first jazz band festival this year — and Dawgiello said his favorite part was the enthusiasm he felt for his senior year performance.

“Sometimes, when you’re performing music every day at college, it can get a little bit boring,” Dawgiello said. “But having three different high schools come in and play their sets with their youthful enthusiasm and vigor certainly inspired us to get up there in our fourth and final position in youth and liveliness.”

After his first jazz band festival, Drozd said he hopes the festival during his senior year will have more of a turnout from Allegheny students.

“I’m excited to see what Mr. Corsi selects for us to play,” Drozd said. “I’d like to see maybe a little more turnout. It would have been nice to see more Allegheny kids because it was a nice event.”

As he prepared for his next jazz band festival, which will take place during his senior year, Drozd reflected on his experience performing for the Meadville and Allegheny communities.

“I always enjoy when people ask me why I play music,” Drozd said. “It’s because there’s a feeling of knowing your performance has made an impact on someone. With younger musicians, you can really see that effect. Especially in this area … it helps them see that what they’re doing is worth their time.”