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Marathon Man

The high schools … my Goodness, the high schools. Since I’ve been touring around the exploding western suburbs of Chicagoland (all Avenue X, all the time) for a week of clinics, classes, and concerts, a side-benefit has been the all-encompassing insider / bird’s-eye view of the state of secondary education in Illinois. With visits to Addison Trail High School, Batavia High School, Naperville Central High School, Neuqua Valley High School, Oswego High School, Plainfield South High School, St. Charles East High School, Waubonsie Valley High School, and Willowbrook High School, I am not wanting for examples.

And I am jealous. I attended a high school (recently re-discovered, see below) with a graduating class of about 300, and a music program that consisted of half-a-concert band blindly struggling through an out-dated Jay Chattaway arrangement, and a choral teacher repeatedly banging on a single piano note shouting, “This is your NOTE ladies!” while he looked at his watch to see if he was retired yet.

So the palatial majesty of some of these high schools gives me more than a little pause. Many are more like community colleges, with their atriums and greenhouses and separate campuses. One of them had a planetarium (Go Waubonsie!). And music programs that reach far beyond the eye can see—some with music faculties you need two hands to count…”we have 6 bands and 9 choruses” is not an uncommon refrain. Not one, but two steel drum bands. And each wind ensemble, of course, is better than the next. Students who are not just holding bassoons, but playing them with gusto and subtlety (no small feat).

Directors are passing me off like a baton in a tag-team relay … one school to the next, 3 yesterday, 2 today, and 2 concerts tonight. Yes, 2 tonight, where after one Avenue X performance I will rush out to a waiting car which will drive me to the next concert, already in progress, where X has been pushed to late in the program. With 13 commissioners, the pool of resources is vast, but the scheduling, I can only imagine, is nightmarish.

The week so far is an exhausting party…and the students are fabulous, ripping through a piece they seem to enjoy playing (at least they give that impression), and the directors generous and excited. But I’ve gone from 0 to 60—from never having heard this piece played, to hearing it straight, 7 hours a day, 2 days so far, and with no end yet in sight. Since one can obviously never have enough Avenue X, it’s probably not a hardship, and my thanks goes to Chip, Jerrod, Jim, John, Margene, Matt, and Josh—the commissioners who have prepped, scheduled, shuttled, and generously given their over their time so far this trip—and all of the terrific students who played their hearts out at Neuqua, Plainfield South, Batavia, Oswego, and Waubonsie. Onward to St. Charles…!

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