Grapevine, Texas: Day 1

I’ve arrived, safe and sound, in Grapevine, Texas. Grapevine is a suburb of Dallas/Ft. Worth. (They tell me it’s a little closer to Ft. Worth.)

I’ve come to Grapevine for a short residency with Grapevine High School, where Steve Andre is the head band conductor. Steve set up this residency as a big favor to me, as part of an ingenious solution to a problem I had. As I’ve mentioned in other entries, one of the Texas All-State bands is playing Redline Tango this week in San Antonio. Steve is the Vice President — and Band Division Chair — of TMEA. Steve knew that the All State band was doing Redline Tango, but that TMEA didn’t have funds to pay for my trip to the convention. As a solution, Steve scheduled a performance of Redline Tango at his own high school (Grapevine), just a few days prior to the start of TMEA, and asked me to come do a residency. This makes it affordable for me to attend the convention in San Antonio immediately following my residency in Grapevine.

So, that’s the great part. Grapevine plays the piece, I come for the concert and a few days of residency activities (working with the music theory class at the high school, rehearsing with the band, plus trips to TCU and UNT, etc.), and the residency fee allows me to pay for my trip to TMEA. Simple. (Since we came up with this residency, TMEA has generously provided me with a hotel room in San Antonio, as an added bonus.)

Here’s the snag, though. Grapevine is a high school — and no high school band has ever performed Redline Tango.

Yes, two other high school bands have programmed it — Logan High School in California and Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona — but they haven’t played it yet. I’ve heard that they’re doing great, and that the kids can totally play the piece, but until I hear it myself, I have no idea what it would sound like with a very young group. Redline Tango is mad hard. Good college bands find it challenging. How on earth could a high school band play it?!

Um, okay, I was extremely naive. I had no idea what was happening with high school bands in this country — particularly in Texas! Holy sh*t.

I got to the high school, said hi to the band — who had graciously agreed to rehearse with me on a Sunday afternoon! On their own time! — and took my seat in the hall, having no idea what to expect. Steve starts conducting, the piece starts, and…

Okay, that sounds pretty good. This part coming up is hard, though, and I can’t imagine that they’ll… no, wait, they nailed it. Weird. Was that a fluke? Uh oh – here comes that first soprano sax solo; that’s usually pretty telling. Okay, that guy’s awesome. Hold on — is the hi-hat player really that good? Did he just nail that nearly-impossible lick? Yep, he did.

These are high school kids?!?!

They played through the first third, and Steve stopped, not knowing what I might have to say. I’m pretty sure that my mouth was hanging open. “Um, okay, um, that’s how it goes! I had no idea what to expect, but you guys are totally fantastic!” I think I blurted something like that. Whatever I said made the band laugh in appreciation. Or maybe they just thought I was a tool. I told them that it may have been a hair slow, and Steve tapped out a different tempo for them to try — much faster than they’d played the first time. To my surprise (and obvious glee), they played it at full tempo — and they played the hell out of it.

We had a 90 minute rehearsal, but I had very little to tell them, other than a few minor interpretive things. (“This part should sound more like a fairy,” I think I told one percussionist about his glock solo. Good lord. I’m sure he was horrified.) Whereas I originally considering becoming completely drunk in preparation for tomorrow’s concert, I’m now sincerely excited to hear this group play.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have some great performances of this piece, and I’ve been excited about all of them, but there’s something amazing about hearing a group of high school kids — we’re talking 14-18 year olds — play something so difficult, and actually play it. It’s not like “oh, that’s kind of how it goes.” They were actually playing Redline Tango.

These kids — and Steve Andre — have blown me away. And I’m a cynical New Yorker who hates everything.


Anonymous says

Heh...well, I guess you finally had a taste of how Texas sees their band programs. ;) Living here in Texas for so long, and having been in band for so many years, it doesn't strike me at all as coincidental or amazing that national band competitions and clinics of all sorts often feature at least a couple Texas bands, or why TMEA is the biggest band convention in the nation. So, yeah--welcome to the Lone Star State. ;)


Joe M. says

yeah, basically. This is a competitive region. I saw the concert, and GHS nailed the Tango. I can't wait to get a recording--it was excellent.

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