Which of the following qualities do Jurupa Valley High School students need to succeed in band? Natural talent? Skill at reading music? Experience performing ? or Commitment and Dedication?
The answer is Commitment and Dedication, said JVHS Band Director Leighanna Sears. Mrs. Sears accepts any student who is willing to work hard, regardless of background. The result: a growing, thriving, increasingly distinguished group of musicians and performers.
Indeed, the JVHS Silver Brigade – 27 students in band and 12 in color guard – fought through adversity this season to hit some beautiful notes.
The students delivered a lackluster competition performance in mid-October, Mrs. Sears said. They made mistakes, posted poor scores, and appeared to have hit a mid-season rut.
In the aftermath of that downer, Mrs. Sears figured she could go two ways in talking with the students: soothe them, or be candid.
She chose candid.
"I gave it to them straight," said Mrs. Sears. "I asked them, 'Do you feel this? Do you want to feel this again?' "
When the students bristled at that prospect, the instructor advised them to be present in rehearsals, to be punctual, to give full effort, to be accountable.
"I told them, 'You need to realize in life you're going to fail. You can either let failure define you or you can dust yourself off and try again.' "
The candor worked. The color guard and musicians – players of the flute, cowbell, sousaphone and more – invested the next two weeks with special diligence.
When the next competition arrived, the squad was ready. Students delivered their show, featuring six songs by the Rolling Stones, with precision and purpose. Energy surged through the audience. The team's score jumped almost 10 points over its previous showing – a leap nearly unprecedented. Scores are based on quality of musical and visual performance.
"They actually brought tears to my eyes," Mrs. Sears said. "I was just floored by their performance. … The kids just nailed it, and went above and beyond."
The students, too, were moved. After the show, they told Mrs. Sears, "That was amazing. I want to do it again."
The success was especially sweet given how far students had progressed. Several band members began the season not reading music, Mrs. Sears said. They quickly built that talent, along with many others. The Silver Brigade is a complex operation.
Music rehearsals entail lessons on tempo, volume, timing, articulation and more. On the visual side, students must dance, sweep their feet on the ground, and create arcs with their instruments – every motion in time with the music.
As a group, the students must march and perform in lines and formations – without looking at the ground. "You have to ask, 'If you're a hawk looking down, where is your placement?' " Mrs. Sears said. "You have to measure and memorize steps, while keeping all of your technique and staying on the music."
And if the piccolo player – or the tambourinist, or the cowbell artist – is off, so is the entire band. The JVHS squad is composed of 20 different instruments, ranging from winds to horns to drums to the xylophone.
To make the moving pieces fit together, the students devote ample time to their craft, said Mrs. Sears. "They're choosing to practice when they could be out skateboarding, or hanging out with friends, or watching TV. And that says a lot about their character."
The instructor, who took over the Silver Brigade this year, said the squad's average competition score was up this season, along with demand for their talent at school events such as ballgames, pep rallies and even a flash mob.
Mrs. Sears sees band not only as a place where kids can fit in, but also as a forum to teach and reinforce commitment and dedication. "It's about learning to commit and climbing the last part of that mountain and enjoying the view from the top," she said.
See the JVHS Silver Brigade's final performance of the season: The Winter Concert will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, December 9, in the JVHS theatre.