Face plants in spaghetti, snow wars and, in “more peaceable times”, snow angels …

It’s all part of the fun at the band retreat for F.H. Collins and Porter Creek secondary schools Grade 8 students.

Rebekah Bell, band teacher at Porter Creek Secondary School and her husband, Bruce Johnson, band teacher at F.H. Collins Secondary School, are uniting Grade 8 students at their 10th annual Beginning Band Retreat, in March.

“On the Saturday of the retreat, we give them three new pieces of music,” says Bell, “and two weeks later, we go and play at the elementary schools.

“It’s the ‘without distractions’ that makes this retreat really work,” she says, adding that, generally, the students who are really successful are the ones whose parents get involved. Parents can basically pick what they want to be involved with at the retreat, as well.https://blob.metropublisher.com/api/blob/232/downloads/3463/download/wuymarch25p12.jpg?cb=30a2f94c33e5dbdc90bb12dd400d1ed9

“It says something ‘loud’ to the kids,” Johnson adds.

“It also gives the parents a chance to come out and see their kids in a different situation,” says Bell.

“They see why music is so important,” Johnson says.

This year, a teacher from F.H. will teach team-building skills to students. According to Bell, “Music is not just about yourself; it’s about the people playing around you” – and the result, Johnson says, is that “everything sounds better.”

Students will benefit from the experience of two clinicians for each instrument type. “We just get the best people that we can to work with the kids: how to take care of those instruments, how to get the best sound out of their instruments – to reinforce the things they learned at Squeak & Squawk, in September,” Bell says.

The Artist in the School program sponsors teachers at the retreat. And local musicians ask Bell and Johnson, months in advance, “When is that weekend?” so they can set it aside. Musicians recognize that it’s about giving back, says Bell.

“It’s not about making professional musicians out of our kids,” Johnson says. “It’s about helping them realize it’s a lifetime thing.”

“All of the skills are transferable,” Bell says, adding that music is “a connecting thing”. She knows firsthand: as a newcomer to Whitehorse, her first connection was with The Big Band.

Johnson calls the retreat “experiential learning at its pinnacle”.

“It’s the weekend,” he says, “where we go from kids being in a class to where they realize they are also part of something much bigger [the All-City Band Society].

“We get the equivalent of almost three weeks of class time when we get out there,” Bell says, with Johnson adding humorously, but sincerely that “it gets the kids away from their iPods and their video games and their dogs and their sisters.”

Bell and Johnson view media as a double-edged sword, so they have designed their website, www.allcityband.com, to be a tool where students can listen to and practice songs and work on issues such as timing.

Bell adds that there is a wide variety of music. Students can Google and suggest songs: “Sometimes we’re able to get songs, and sometimes they’re not available.”

“So the kids learn about what’s right and wrong,” Johnson says, referring to copyright.

Grade 11 and 12 students get involved at the retreat, too. They help out wherever and whenever needed, Johnson says. They play music with the kids. They even spend time with students who need a little TLC.

And, of course, where there’s Grade 8 students, there’s weird fun: a murder mystery to solve, after plenty of hot chocolate and s’mores … and zany activities that unite them as bandmates.

After the retreat, students will play for Grade 7 students who will see what students just one year older than them can accomplish musically. Then there is a spring trip where students perform and gain a wealth of experience.

They always go on a university tour, Bell says.

“We take them to the science centre,” Johnson says, adding that this year they are also going to The Marriage of Figaro. “We took them to Annie, last year.”

Johnson says all of this is a huge investment in the students’ future and, for the parents who get involved, it’s also a huge investment in family.

The Beginning Band Retreat is March 26 to 28. You can find out more about All-City Band Society and the retreat, as well as be treated to a visual tour of their activities, at www.allcityband.com.