A school visit by a professional musician is certain to spawn excitement and creativity in any high school student. When that visit includes a jam session from the drummer of a band the students are emulating, the energy level skyrockets.
That was the scene when orchestral rock band Mannheim Steamroller drummer Logan Penington visited the Wauwatosa West Concert Band Nov. 3 at West High School. The high school band is scheduled to play a re-creation of a Mannheim Steamroller concert Dec. 20 and members were able to interact with Penington by playing with him and listening to some sage advice.
"It gives them an opportunity to grow from direct contact with those people who model what it is we are trying to be," Band Director Guy Kammerer said. "(Logan) provided some personal insight and some information and helped them get closer to the music."
Penington sat in with the band, playing two songs, and spoke to the students about Mannheim Steamroller and gave them insider tips on creating a path to a career as a musician.
"Hopefully the experience the kids have is that music should be fun to play," Penington said. "It’s not that you are just showing up to class and reading notes on a page. If anything, I hope the kids understand that the whole point of trying to do an art like music is to make it fun for yourself. I think that sometimes it gets lost when you’re doing it in classes like this."
Often when you are embarking on a career, whether it be in music or anything else, networking is the key to achieving your goals. Penington talked to the kids at length about making sure to pay attention and respect those you meet because they could help you get where you want to be.
"I think when you go to college it is one thing that they don’t usually tell you," Penington said. "I was trying to instill the fact that it is who you know in the music business. As far as getting ahead it is about making connections and getting people to like you."
The performance the band played for Penington gave a snapshot of where the students were in the process of getting ready for their Dec. 20 performance. After they were done playing, their leader made a point regarding sound dynamics that is key to an orchestral performance.
Balance and blend
"Dynamics are the difference between the softs and the louds, which is one of the primary ways we create emotion," Kammerer said. "That is creating a balance and a blend and really delivering the homogeneous sound that you are looking for."
Penington said he thinks for any band the hardest thing to get them to do is to play softer and sometimes louder. He said that the best way for a musician to relay emotion to the audience is to vary volume and veracity of the sound.
"Anytime you see a performance from any band you should take in the entire experience of it," Penington said. "If you perform well, the people in the audience are going to react to it. They are on the right path. They’ve got the instrumentation down and the arrangements sound great. It's going to sound amazing what they’re doing."
Dec. 18 the students will do some final preparations for their Dec. 20 performance with a four-hour rehearsal at Tosa West followed by attending the Mannheim Steamroller concert at Riverside Theater in downtown Milwaukee. Kammerer said this will be invaluable experience for the students as their concert draws close.
"We get to go to the source to really understand and get inside the music," Kammerer said. "Then it will take on a whole new level of meaning to every student because it’s so personal. It just really creates an entire experience. It’s not just a concert anymore, it’s a musical experience."
Senior clarinet player Emily Chiesa is excited to go through the process that will lead to their performance and thoroughly enjoyed the visit from Penington.
"I thought it was a really cool experience to see someone who is out in the real world doing something as big as Mannheim," Chiesa said. "I think I make pretty good connections and I think if I get the opportunity that maybe (music) is something I could do for a living."
Senior alto sax player Steven Anthony said he was not certain he was working toward a career in music and has been looking into a potential career as a mechanical engineer. Despite that, he said he always will look for music in his life and will hold onto this experience whatever he decides to do.
"It was quite the incredible moment," Anthony said. "It was an experience that hopefully will contribute to our performance."