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Break-ups, beginnings, & the Beechwood band

INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 14) — This is the eighth of a series of 35 stories about high school marching bands that performed at the Bands of America Grand National Championships on Thursday through Saturday, November 12–14, 2015.


Statue of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Salzburg, Austria

Don’t tweet it; toot it.

If I could offer only one tip for students about coping with a break-up, it would include surrounding themselves with music, either by singing, listening, playing, or, in the case of a marching band, tooting. The long-term benefits of music on the healing of the soul, especially one injured after the break-up of a first love, which happens tens of thousands of times annually in high schools across America, have been proved by scientists.

The rest of the advice teens receive from us adults has “no basis more reliable than our own meandering experience,” I say, in homage to Mary Schmich’s famous “Wear Sunscreen” column in the Chicago Tribune, written just before all the seniors on the field here, many of them performing in a marching band for the last time, were born.


First love: Beechwood performs at Grand Nationals, Nov. 13, 2015 (Voxitatis)

There’s certainly no shortage of advice about effective ways to deal with the end of romantic relationships—Teen Vogue, Psychology Today, BeingGirls, Massachusetts General Hospital, WebMD—and there are a few common threads.

The vast majority of advice-givers suggest not posting details about the break-up on social media, since this allows potentially thousands of “friends” to post comments that might be less than helpful under the circumstances. School counselors have even found that social media usage after a break-up, at a time when teens are especially vulnerable, can lead to situations that pose “serious and foreseeable harm” because of the potential for bullying of the person on the giving or receiving end of the break-up.

Researchers have also found that about 30 percent of high school students in the US have sent the decision to end a romantic relationship by text message. I don’t think that’s the best way. And the website Her Campus.com, run by college students, presents extensive arguments for and against staying together in a long-distance relationship, testing the waters, or breaking up when one half of a romantic couple goes away to college.

Most good things come to an end

Like our participation in marching band, many loving and good relationships come to an end at some point. People, like bands, move on. For example, Joe Craig, who’s the director at Beechwood High School in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, said the school has had great success with contemporary shows from Inspire Music, an offshoot from last year’s Grand National champion, Tarpon Springs High School in Florida.

“We’ve won state championships for a few years in a row with those shows, but the kids were ready for something new musically,” he said. “So while we were thinking about show ideas, we looked at bringing in some classical influence.”

Enter Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; enter Benjamin Britten. These two composers and a few others gave Mr Craig an opportunity to explore new areas of our history as a society of music-loving, and music-needing, people. The music itself, like existing friends we surround ourselves with during a break-up, comforts us and helps us express our feelings.

That expression may find its voice in one of the musical selections chosen by the Beechwood High School marching band, which performed here in the semifinals round at the Bands of America Grand National Championships after what Mr Craig said was about a three-hour nap after prelims on Friday. Maybe the lyrics of a pop song, such as David Foster’s “The Best of Me,” speak to us as we move forward.

Or maybe something clicks in our spirit as we absorb the timeless musical utterances of Mozart, whose final cataloged work, the Requiem in D Minor, K. 626, was finished after he had passed on, perhaps to something better, by his friend Franz Xaver Süssmayr.

Lyrics like “How did I ever let my heart believe in one who never gave enough to me?” to describe the break-up of hard relationships in the past or “I only hope that in return I might have saved the best in me for you” to describe the second chance in a new relationship may work independently of the music, but Mozart’s Requiem is in Latin. No one has spoken Latin since hundreds of years before he wrote it, so the music has to be programmatic, which makes its selection perfect for a marching band show.

It may be a little extreme to put a break-up of a romantic relationship on par with dying—a “Requiem” is a mass said at someone’s funeral—but when a first love is lost, it can feel exactly like there should be a funeral.

For starters, Mozart’s last work was written in the key of D Minor, perhaps one of the darkest keys in music. Then, the piece known as “Confutatis maledictis,” written in A Minor but modulating quickly and frequently, portrays the words, which describe the fires of hell, with music. In Latin, the words say, “When all the accused people are doomed to flames of woe and despair,” and Mozart stirs up the cello in the low register with an ostinato that rises and builds tension with extremely short phrases in the choir.

Visually, the band changes uniform, taking off a bright red coat to leave a completely black shirt, symbolizing the darkness—of a break-up in the field show or a death in the music. The group also brings out a few props, such as black golf umbrellas.

Diverting to the relative major is only temporary

Switching briefly into the relative major, the bright-sounding C Major, Mozart sings the prayer of the person who died, for whom the mass is being celebrated: “Call to me as one of the people who are blessed,” sopranos sing in half-voice, giving the passage an angelic quality and expressing that hope in the future amid the gloom of hell or a bad break-up.

The prayer lasts only briefly, offering us a musical light at the end of a dark tunnel, much as the thought of not ending a relationship that should end teases us every time we break up. What those sopranos are really showing us is that there is hope even as we’re surrounded by darkness, which translates on the gridiron to hope in renewal of love, even if it comes with a different person. In the “Confutatis,” the ostinato returns abruptly to interrupt the prayer and shift the tonality back to a minor key, now C Minor, with a simple accidental on the median.

Once the couple finds renewed love, though, all the green starts coming out, including a flash of green on the band members’ uniforms. “Green symbolizes a new life, a new world. And one of the last sets has a couple with a new color and a new love,” Mr Craig said.

That’s also when the band uses the “Fugue” from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Mr Craig characterized the fugue as “vibrant and happy,” a perfect choice for the “renewal” section of the field show.

“The requiems are pretty dark,” he said. “The ballad is melancholy: most of it is about the loss of a relationship, and only at the end is it uplifting. So we decided to go with a much brighter musical selection once the color changed visually and the new love was found.

“That’s also a work I’ve always wanted to perform on the field, because it features all the different sections of the band and gives everyone a chance to shine, and it went well with the production.”

Musical selections were also taken from the “East of Eden” television miniseries, music by Lee Holdridge, and Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass, though the use of Verdi’s Requiem wasn’t nearly as extensive as Mozart’s.

And just as the characters in Beechwood’s story continue to love, even in renewed relationships, the 92 members of the Marching Tigers continued a tradition at the state level earlier this season, even with the use of classical music, winning the Kentucky Music Educators Association Class A state championship on October 31 at Western Kentucky University.

Voxitatis is grateful to the Music For All organization, particularly to Eric Martin, president and CEO, and to Kathryn Reinhardt, marketing coordinator, for their assistance in developing this series of stories and for their hospitality while we were in Indianapolis covering what is, by far, the largest high school marching band event in the US.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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