Call this the 'Summertime' school Student musicians are glad to stay in to learn big band jazz standards.

Posted: July 18, 2004

GLEN MILLS — On a rainy July night, the sprawling Garnet Valley High School was empty, dark and quiet except for the faint melody of "April in Paris."

The music drifted past classrooms and down hallways abandoned by students. Following the sound led to the band room and the 24 dedicated musicians of the Delaware County High School All-Star Big Band.

"For three weeks, these kids give up all for practice and performance time," said Steve Selfridge, All-Star Big Band codirector and Garnet Valley Elementary School band director.

"These kids want to go to the next step, become a performer and play difficult music. About half plan to be college music majors, and half just love to play."

Selfridge and All-Star codirector Dave Burkhart founded the band in spring 2002 to give a small number of exceptional high school musicians an extra way to focus their talents.

Players are incoming freshmen through seniors chosen by band directors from Ridley, Springfield, Garnet Valley, and Interboro High School bands, joined by four college music majors.

They are scheduled to perform three free concerts next week in Glenolden, Prospect Park and Glen Mills.

The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association sponsors district, regional and all-state competitions to give students from public, private and parochial schools an opportunity to audition and play with the best in a concert band setting. All-Star Big Band is a small non-audition group of select musicians from four public schools, designed for big band sound, Selfridge said.

"In a big band, there is only one person on each part, and that is the educational benefit of this small group," Selfridge said.

"No one plays that part except you. You have to be good on your part."

Using a baton to dissect a musical score into the detailed measures accenting the rise and fall of forte and pianissimo, Burkhart took the band through the opening hour of a recent two-hour rehearsal.

The challenge for codirectors and band members is to learn 14 pieces, a repertoire of jazz classics including works by Chick Corea and Maynard Ferguson, in two weeks.

It is not a problem for this group, said Burkhart, Interboro band director for 30 years and the father of two high school musicians. He has seen a steady improvement in the quality of public school musicians.

"I came here to rehearse at 6:30 p.m., and the students were already here waiting for me, ready to play," Burkhart said.

"When is the last time anyone went to a band concert and said, 'These kids cannot play?' No one ever complains about the state of music education in public schools."

Perhaps supporting Burkhart's theory was the sweet, smooth sound of the band members several generations removed from George Gershwin performing a flawless version of the composer's "Summertime."

Amanda Noce was the vocalist, producing a lifting yet gentle expression of the lyrics. Noce, 18, a recent graduate of Springfield High and a bassoon player, will attend Temple University this fall as a music major.

"I love singing jazz. My favorite jazz singer is Sarah Vaughn because she is very soulful," Noce said, adding that she hopes to get "an orchestra position after I graduate from college."

This is the third year Mike Ducassoux, 20, a senior at Temple University, has played drums with the All-Star Big Band. A 2001 Interboro graduate, he plans to become a music teacher.

"It's good to come back and keep the music alive," Ducassoux said. "It's fun working with the kids. It's what I want to do."

There are no salaries for Selfridge, Burkhart and the musicians in the nonprofit band. The group does accept donations to cover the costs of music and equipment.

Vince DeMarro, Garnet Valley High band director who donates rehearsal space to the All-Star Big Band, said being part of the group brings special rewards.

"In today's push-button world, band is one of the few places where kids learn delayed gratification. You have to put in the time to practice, to make yourself better, and that is a good lesson," DeMarro said.

"A musical ensemble becomes tightly knit more than any other organization. They have to really listen to each other to make sure every note falls into just the right place."

Send arts news to suburban staff writer Gloria A. Hoffner, The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa, 19428; e-mail it to PAarts@phillynews.com; or fax it to 610-313-8227. Contact Gloria A. Hoffner at 610-313-8006 or gloriah@phillynews.com.

If You Go

The Delaware County High School All-Star Big Band is scheduled to perform three free concerts:

6 p.m. next Sunday at Glenolden Park, Llanwellyn and Knowles Avenues, Glenolden. Guests should bring lawn chairs.

7 p.m. July 28, Garnet Valley High School, 552 Smithbridge Rd., Glen Mills. Indoors; donations will be accepted.

7 p.m. July 30, Park Square Bandstand, Prospect Avenue between 9th and 10th Avenues, Prospect Park. Guests should bring lawn chairs; rain location is the Prospect Park Fire House, 10th and Lincoln Avenues, Prospect Park.

For concert updates and more information on the band, visit www.geocities.com/delcoallstarbigband.

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