When director Terry Dahlgren’s 92 students who are in the Seaside High School Symphonic Band this year pick up their instruments to play Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” the result is impressive.
Although the students fall across a spectrum of different skill levels, not one of them is superfluous in the band’s production of quality music, said Dahlgren, who has been the high school’s band director for 12 years.
“I want all of those kids,” he said. “As long as they want to play music, I don’t care why they’re here. I’m just happy they’re here.”
“I’m very anti-elitist,” he added. “I think everybody has something to offer.”
As the director of band at Broadway Middle School, Dahlgren has worked with almost all of the high school students since sixth grade. Some are transfers from other districts. Dahlgren said it would be difficult for a student to take up band for the first time in high school.
“It builds sequentially in difficulty until they get to this level,” he said.
A large amount of laying groundwork and installing technical proficiency takes place during the middle school experience. Even still, “It’s a leap from eighth grade to ninth grade” in terms of difficulty, and some freshmen struggle with the transition for the first few months, Dahlgren said.
Participation in band this year is abnormally high with 92 students. Most comparative bands in the region are in the 50 to 60 range, Dahlgren said. Also notable is the band’s 13 percussionists.
Dahlgren isn’t one to turn a student away, though. Like most years, he spent a majority of his summer selecting music he believes will be appropriate for the level the band is at, challenging enough for the students to learn from and that also will hold their interest.
Dahlgren takes a multilayered approach to the band process, the goal being to “learn high-quality music to perform,” he said.
The band learns an entirely new score of about 14 songs each year. Dahlgren mirrors his selection with the group he has. For instance, one of the pieces the group is doing this year is “Concerto for Percussion and Band” to take advantage of the band’s wealth of percussionists and give all of them a chance for participation.
The band also has a number of practice songs that won’t be performed but that contain a certain element Dahlgren wants students to be exposed to or learn to increase their music literacy, such as “America the Beautiful.”
The symphonic band generally puts on three community performances at the school. The first community performance will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 19.
The band also plays in two or three festivals to be judged and to qualify for state competition. It must receive high enough scores from the judges to qualify. Seaside High School’s band has qualified for and attended the state finals the past nine years.
Besides allowing the students to perform publicly more often, the festivals also give them opportunities to hear other groups — opportunities the students likely don’t get enough of because Seaside is somewhat isolated, Dahlgren said.
The symphonic band members double as the pep band, which plays at school sporting events. For that purpose, Dahlgren selects music that is entertaining and possesses wide audience appeal. Most of the kids enjoy pep band the most, he said.
The band used to perform at almost all the sporting events that took place at home, but Dahlgren cut back the schedule so it wouldn’t be too overwhelming for the students, many of whom participate in other extracurricular activities.
“One of my main goals is to make this activity doable to them,” he said.
Students seeking extra opportunities to play because they have goals to be professional musicians or directors, are referred to camps or other learning opportunities and performance groups. One opportunity is the Oregon Ambassadors of Music Tour where students take an international trip to meet with people from other countries and share their love of music.
After about 25 years of directing high school band, Dahlgren said one of his favorite parts is “seeing the kids accept the challenge of working on a task that’s extraordinarily difficult and the attitude of not backing away from that.”
He tries to stress to the students how important “the journey of getting there” is; “there” is accomplishment, proficiency and success. Antithetical to the trend in society to desire immediate results, music is entirely dependent on a process that might take days, even years. Because of the routine necessary to build muscle memory and become better musicians, Dahlgren is pleased the Seaside School District allows students to have band class every day of the school week.
“It needs to be routine-oriented,” he said.
One of Dahlgren’s goals for this year is to improve the quantity and quality of the school’s supply of musical instruments at the middle and high schools. Ten to 20 percent of high school students traditionally use school-owned instruments, and 30 to 40 percent of middle schoolers do, as well.
Different groups, from the school district, to the school’s Booster Club and PTO and the Lighthouse Jazz Society, have helped raise funds for that purpose, Dahlgern said, but it is an ever-present need.
Providing quality instruments for students to use is critical to their learning experience, he said.
“I want them to be playing on a good instrument that can do what it’s supposed to do,” he said.
‘I’m just happy they’re here’