At the 2018 Band Holiday Concert at Burbank High School there was a moment that brought me up short and made me realize – this, this right here, this is why we work so hard to make art accessible to our children. In my career in the entertainment industry, which lead me back to teaching, I have sought the moments where art can open up your heart and help people touch powerful emotions by sharing them through an understanding deeper than words. This sharing creates connection and community, and community builds purpose and meaning in life. This is why we work to open up arts opportunities for our students.
A month ago, Burbank High lost one of our lovely drama students to cancer, Evie. This hit our arts family hard as she had been a strong and lively component of our very first musical collaboration, Little Shop of Horrors last April. Students in every department knew her and didn’t know how to process this loss. One band student, Jake, who had been in Little Shop as Seymour and then afterwards joined Drama this fall, wanted to write a piece for her and have students perform it at the Band Holiday Concert.
It was a beautiful and touching piece, played by 5 wind ensemble students who also got to know Evie through Little Shop. Such a lovely tribute, and we all knew Evie’s mom and brother were in the audience to hear it. So powerful that a student composed and directed this piece for her with the idea to continue to bring the departments together through music. Mr. Klotzle’s (the BHS Band Director) support of Jake’s work and letting him debut it at the Holiday Show was just what would have made Evie happy.
My tech students were working the sound and light boards and designing for this show. My lead tech senior, David, an exceptional lighting designer, had done a set design for band, which is fairly unusual. It was only in the last few years we started adding in light design to band shows and having our tech students run the sound board, live mixing the microphones placed strategically throughout the orchestra. Adding in scenery was the last piece to bringing band shows up to the technical presentation level of every other performing arts department and we have been working hard to ensure we support all the departments equally. We are a school and every show is a learning experience for my students and part of my teaching program. New people were on the light and sound boards, and though they were being carefully mentored, it was still their first show.
So I was aware that this piece was coming up and it was important to our community. I hadn’t seen it in rehearsal since I had been finishing backstage instructions to new crew when this piece had rehearsed. I was watching my people on the light and sound boards as it came up and looking to keep it all running smoothly. I never anticipated being captured by what they created. The sound was rich and sweet, mixed by my student Arka in his first outing as lead sound board op. The lights were magical. David had been working with Noah, a sophomore, through his first show on the light board. This piece had both of their fingerprints on it. Beautiful colored beams of light came together from behind to light the five piece ensemble while warm light filled in the shadow from the side. In the back cool blue beams shot up against the dark backing to create a night sky where the sparkling snowflakes glistened like stars. I cried for our lost child and for the beautiful way our students were expressing the complex emotions brought up by her death.
My students know when I cry it’s because I stop being their teacher and instead get swept up in the creative power of their work. It is the highest praise I can give them. I was aware that one by one my students were glancing back at me behind them at the boards and whispering to one another. I didn’t care. I wanted to soak in the beauty of our students coming together and creating something, untouched by adults, that was so pure and meaningful. That night I cried, and I was so very, very proud.