Interruption after interruption—welcome ones—grab Bruce Johnson’s attention as students seek him out.
One student strides in, snapping her chewing gum while looking confident
and comfortable in an “I feel right at home” kind of way, to which Johnson, the band teacher at F. H. Collins, responds, “You can take your theory and go work.”
She scans the room, realizing that it’s “occupied” and she replies with a jovial, “Ouch!”
Johnson steps into the hallway to fend off incoming students.
“I’m coming in here,” a mystery male voice says in the hall.
“Noo,” Johnson says.
“Yes,” the voice jokes.
“Yeah, yeah,” the mystery voice quips sassily.
Johnson explains that the band room is not available.
For minutes there is chatter, much of it between Johnson and students, before he appears again and explains that there are “literally 60 kids in here at lunch”.
Johnson is all about band, and all about students. He started playing in band in Grade 8 and has been a band teacher for 31 years. He met his perfect match – Rebekah Bell, the band teacher from Porter Creek Secondary.
And the two of them joined forces. Two is better than one, right? Well, that’s what they thought … so, last summer they married and the two of them are the music directors for the All-City Band Society.
Johnson needs no prompting. He is eager to talk about his students, the band room and the All-City Band Society. With a twinkle in his eye and a satisfied smile, he says he and Bell thought, Why don’t we put this “thing” together?
So they did.
“We have five different bands,” he explains, adding that it made sense to bring the rehearsals together rather than have them separately.
“I’ll be conducting away, with 80 kids here, while she [Bell] is dealing with a parent, a student, a broken instrument.”
The two of them take turns conducting. “Both of us play; both of us conduct. It’s totally a shared thing. At night, we have these big rehearsals.
“[And] there are lots of parents that want to do things with their kids.”
That’s right: All-City Band Society is not just for students; adults are welcome, too. From Grade 7 and 8, to several adults, in their 70s, whom Johnson describes emphatically as “70-years-young” and “an inspiration to the kids”.
“There’s about 20 parents who are really, really active. For example, we sell over $68,000 worth of Purdy’s at Christmastime. That’s just one of the little projects that we do.”
Instruments are pricey, indeed. Johnson says that the Yukon Lottery Commission granted them $16,000 last year so that they could purchase a tuba and a French horn. “That kind of support is huge.”
He can name each instrument hidden in their odd-shaped cases – brass, woodwinds, percussion and stringed instruments – and knows what each is worth. He points to a wood cabinet with drawers filled with sheet music, retrieves a set of music and points to the label on the back of one piece: $125.
“It’s a huge paper task just making sure that all the kids are being taken care of [with sheet music for each instrument].”
Johnson gets up and crosses the room and stands, smiling, beside rotund instruments that are shrouded in black covers. He pulls the cover off of one to reveal one of three gold, brass-barrelled drums – “Tympanis – $7,000 each.
“They just fit into the belly of a 737,” he says, adding that Air North carries all of their instruments for outside concerts.
Each September, the All-City Band Society tries their fledgling wings in a concert called Squeak and Squawk. They began with 93 band members this year.
“Our biggest concert [in Whitehorse] is on December 14 and 15, Music for a Winter’s Eve, at the Yukon Arts Centre.”
That is followed by the Rotary Music Festival and by a three-day retreat, at the end of March, where beginners receive even more individualized instruction. Then a final band concert in May and concerts at Arts in the Park.
This year, the All-City Band will fly to Vancouver for a concert near the end of April.
If you’re wondering what kind of music it plays, … well, after Johnson spreads them out like appetizers at a smorgasbord, he says simply, “All styles” and agrees there are too many to list, but then adds that the pieces are on its website, www.allcityband.com.
The site is integral to the band’s organizational and musical success.
“It even has recordings of each [selection],” says Johnson. Students download them to their iPods.
The website is a great place to explore to find out exactly what the All-City Band has to offer. The site extends this invitation: “Join Our Band! And find out how much fun playing music can be.”