It was 8 p.m. and the hallways of Porter Creek Secondary School had seldom been more clogged.
Anxious faces, nervous chatter, hands gripping shiny new musical instruments just tightly enough so as not to drop them, but not so tightly that they would bend. So, how tight is that?
They filled four hallways leading toward one central gymnasium where volunteers had set up chairs earlier that day. Half of the chairs faced the other half. On one side of the gym would be family and friends and, on the other, first-time musicians and the volunteer musicians who had coached them just minutes earlier.
They had heard about this moment.
Everyone knows about Squeak & Squawk.
It is the night that first-year band students from F.H. Collins and Porter Creek Secondary Schools and Jack Hulland and from Whitehorse Elementary Schools receive their chosen instruments and get to play them as part of a band.
But, first, they need to go to one of 16 classrooms spread throughout the school to learn how to clean and care for them, how to assemble them and, finally, how to make music.
If it is a squeak, that’s fine.
If it is a squawk, hey, who cares? This is Squeak & Squawk.
Leading them are members of the All-City Band and the Senior Band. Volunteers, all of them, and most of them remember sitting in that gymnasium surrounded by “instruments of noise” of all shape and manner and unknown names.
But look at them now.
Yes, look at them now. They have spent hundreds of hours practising with their instruments and have performed for audiences in Whitehorse and elsewhere on field trips.
Nice people, all of them, flush with the responsibility of igniting the same passion they feel for their instruments in another … or, at least, a tolerance for the foibles and challenges these instruments inflict and demand, respectively.
“Teachers don’t have time for this,” says a veteran of the concert band, Kim Friedenberg. “So we run them through it … the do’s and the don’ts.
“This will give them a two or three-week head start.”
Along with Ben Logan, the two of them showed some students the baritone (a small version of a tuba) and how to hold their mouths to play the first three notes they were about to learn.
Austin Stadel was one of those students. He said he originally picked the trumpet, but the mouthpiece just wasn’t something he could get comfortable with.
“This is exciting,” he says. “The mouth feel is funny, my lips are tingling from blowing.
“It’s going to be fun.”
Then comes the instruction: “What position is C?” asks Friedenberg. “Good. Now, D? Good job. OK, start with the slide in the first position.”
The room fills with noise.
“We are going to try this one more time.”
They work at it until they perform a passable rendition of Three Of A Kind, a song that has only three notes.
“That’s really good,” says Friedenberg. “That’s the best one.
“We’ll do it three more times and then get you guys to the gym for your first mini-concert.”
Down the hall, there are three boys lined up at snare drums and another at a xylophone. They dutifully tap the drums with drumsticks at a slow beat.
They look like caged animals, wanting to let loose on the drum … no, on a wall of drums in front of an adoring and raucous crowd.
“Left, right, left, right,” chants Breanne Leschert, a Grade 11 student at F.H. Collins. She is tapping two drumsticks together.
“Right, left, right, left.”
Leschert volunteered to help out tonight, partly because she remembers being in this room, in this place, four years ago.
“It’s a cycle,” she says. “You give, you take, etc.”
Steven Qiu is one of her charges. He is from F.H. Collins.
“I already play saxophone in the Junior Band,” he says. “I want to try something new.”
He understands that this starts with a single snare drum. But, one day, he will play a full drum kit, like Leschert does.
Danielle McDonald, a Grade 11 student from F.H. Collins, isn’t teaching tonight, but she will be in the middle of the “Squeak & Squawk Concert” lending support.
Earlier, she helped set instruments and stands. Now, she is making sure everybody knows where they are going, including me.
“Band is my favourite subject,” she says when I ask her why she volunteered. “I like to help out whenever I can.”
She knows how the first-timers are feeling. She throws out encouragement in all of the classrooms we visit.
“I was so nervous,” she says of that first Squeak & Squawk of hers. “Oh, my God, I hope I don’t …” She doesn’t finish the sentence. But, yeah, that’s how these students look tonight.
At the next classroom, she teases Nic Terry, a Grade 10 student from F.H. Collins. He is playing long notes with a first-timer, Bradley Bishop, who is under his wing … and doing very well.
“Everyone beats up on the bassoon,” Terry retaliates. “It’s only because we are a double-reed instrument.”
McDonald knows what this means. I don’t.
“We have two minutes left,” says Terry. “Let’s bust out.”
They proceed to bust out … playing Mary Had A Little Lamb.
Then the hallways fill.
Clarinets are clutched; trombones are cradled; drums are wheeled.
Carrying books and their instruments is an alien task and it is accomplished, together, awkwardly.
Within 10 minutes, they are sitting in chairs facing their friends and family. In the middle is Bruce Johnson, the F.H. Collins band teacher.
“An hour ago, you couldn’t play a note,” he tells the students. There are 86 of them. Then there are the volunteers sprinkled liberally throughout within easy reach of someone who might need help.
On the far side of the room, behind the spectators, are large containers of coffee and cookies from Tim Hortons.
“Watch me,” says Johnson, lifting his hands.
Hey, actually, that sounded pretty good.
Flashes from cameras erupt … and then the applause.Erica Moorhouse, an F.H. Collins beginner, tries out her euphonium.
Galena Roots, a beginner at Whitehorse Elementary, with the alto horn.
Bradley Bishop (foreground), a Porter Creek Secondary School beginner, is coached on the bassoon by Nicholas Terry, of F.H. Collins.
Surrounded by experienced players, first-timers perform for the first time with their clarinets.
Joining the brass section for the first time, trumpeters share a giggle.
Being in the middle of an orchestra on the first night can be an intimidating experience. But there was lots of help everywhere.
Parents face their children in performance for the first time.
Bruce Johnson, band teacher at F.H. Collins Secondary School, leads the new band members that are a combination of first-timers and experienced members who volunteered to help them.
Photos by Rick Massie: email@example.com