Novice jazz band group develops musical skills

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Members of band teacher Carolyn Castellano's jazz band preparatory class practice in the White Box. Castellano said that the musicians in the "feeder" class will participate in jazz band upon learning skills. MAYA MORRIS/SAGAMORE STAFF

Sarah Hughes, Staff Writer

Instruments are taken out and tuned as students talk and shuffle on music stands as the band prepares to play an especially difficult piece. Upstairs, jazz band teacher Carolyn Castellano works on basics with a smaller group of quiet but enthralled musicians.

These musicians are part of a feeder group for the jazz band which helps them develop skills to prepare for the main collective. Though this program is beneficial to students, the strain on Castellano of teaching two groups at once for Castellano causes it not to be a viable long term option.

Castellano started the feeder group to satisfy the needs of students who auditioned for the core jazz ensemble but did not yet have the skills to be accepted. However, she still wanted to give them the opportunity to improve and participate in a jazz class during the day.

“I sent a message to the feeder program saying that if you want to be in this class, realize you have to be proactive. I’m not going to be up there all the time, I’m going to give you stuff to do and you have to make sure that you know how to get it done,” Castellano said. “You’re going to get the skills, so that when you audition again, you’ll have the vocabulary, you will understand the theory and you’ll have more of a jazz background.”

In the feeder group, students listen to jazz and work on understanding theory, as well as practicing on their instruments to obtain proficiency in jazz. The main band is able to focus more on playing advanced pieces where improvisation is a major key.

According to to junior Alec Goldman, who is in the feeder group, the main ensemble had to come in at the beginning of the year, already having learned a few pieces.

“It’s just a much more head on, forward thinking approach, whereas the feeder group is more getting you ready for the main collective because everyone in the feeder group wants to be in the main collective,” Goldman said.

According to Goldman, this arrangement works well because you are with people around your own skill level, so you can work on pieces that fit your ability without falling behind or getting bored.

“I like that I get an hour of just music a day at school, and that’s nice because it’s like a mini escape,” said Goldman.

Sophomore Sander Sorok is in the advanced group, and agrees that in the main collective, there is more pressure to have a performance ready.

“I don’t have to write pieces for the ensemble, but other people have to actually produce original pieces, like arrangements that they have to bring in, so that’s another separate part to the main collective,” said Sorok.

However, Castellano says that this arrangement has been really hard for her, since she’s teaching two classes at once.

“I feel like right now, I’m kind of spread thin trying to make sure I’m spending enough time with my advanced ensemble,” Castellano said. “I spend too much time with my feeder group because they need more direction, so that has been hard for me.”

Castellano hopes that in the future the school will be able to offer a separate class for musicians that are not yet as skilled, but who want to become more advanced and later audition for the jazz band.

Although the situation is not ideal, Castellano says that the initiative from the feeder group to learn together shows their commitment to getting better at playing jazz.

“That’s how you learn, anyway–if people are interested in doing something and have to do it on their own, that shows that you’re really passionate about it,” Castellano said.