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A Guest Baton: Band Clinic Offers Students a Different Perspective on their Music - from The Messenger

February 22, 2020

student smiling with tubaTara Smith, director of the Fort Dodge Middle School fifth- and sixth-grade bands, had her hands full Friday while the sixth-grade band warmed up for a performance at the North Central Iowa Bandmasters Association Middle School Concert Band Clinic.

It’s an exercise very much like herding cats.

It’s also deafening.

Each student playing in their own key, tempo and tone while warming up makes a grand and glorious racket.

Once everyone had settled and gotten warmed up, they would go on stage to play for guest conductor John Laughlin, band director at Memorial Middle School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“I like if the students get another perspective,” Smith said. “It’s good to hear from another.”

The students are currently preparing for their spring concert in May.

“They’re about at the half point,” she said. “This is some extra help to polish it.”

As they prepared, one student gave her an opportunity to display her excellent sense of humor.

“Why do we have somebody else today?” the student asked.

“Well,” she said. “You don’t always listen to me so we’re giving you somebody else to not listen to today.”

Then she got serious.

“When you have another expert,” she said. “All of a sudden it makes sense and you get a different perspective on the music.”

Her humor sent them out of the classroom and into the auditorium.

One of their pieces is “Carpathia” by William Owens. It details the journey of the ship Carpathia — sent to rescue survivors of the Titanic disaster.

guest conducting band

“Go save the drowning people,” she said.

Once set up, Laughlin had them play through their selections with Smith directing.

He worked with the trumpet players first.

“That’s what you call a popcorn entrance,” he said. “Let’s all breathe together.”

Another attempt and everyone came much closer to starting together, then there was an odd noise.

“Somebody has a lake in your instrument,” he said. “Time to empty the spit. Spit will occur.”

Laughlin was enjoying the day. It gave him a chance to use his daily catch phrases on a new audience and a chance to hear new bands. Algona and Southeast Valley had bands at the clinic, too.

He was impressed with the students.

“They’re playing great,” he said. “It’s a valuable experience for the kids. It helps challenge them. You have a higher expectation in this setting.”

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