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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
Dale Curtis was trying to figure out why a middle school student’s trumpet sounded like she was playing the instrument under water — she thought she had cleaned out the spit valve already.
Curtis walked over to her in the greenroom at Ketchikan High School on Friday afternoon and told her to clean it out again — unleashing a wob of spit from the valve.
After the small group of music students let out a few “ews” and a couple laughs, Curtis went on to teach the rest of his jazz improv class during the Middle School Music Day held at Kayhi.
As a part of “Music in Our Schools Month,” Jamie Karlson, the music director at Schoenbar Middle School; and Julie Cron, the music director at Ketchikan Charter School, organized the day-long event, which ended in a free concert for the community.
Over 130 middle school students from SMS, KCS and Klawock Middle School participated in the clinics and concert. The concert featured a combined jazz band, choir and concert band, with guest directors Roy McPherson, Trina Purcell and Deidra Nuss.
Before their performances, the students spent the afternoon participating in group choir and band rehearsals, and attended music workshops like Curtis’. He was teaching a jazz improv clinic, during which he worked on a few things with the students.
Curtis told the students that his sister bought him a jazz album when he was 13 years old, which had the song “My Secret Love” by Mitchell Parish and Bobby Sherwood on it. He said the song has stuck with him ever since and it’s one of his favorites.
Curtis gave the sheet music of the song to the students, and had them play it with the “tools of the trade” in the background — bass, drums and piano. The instrumental was one of 1,500 jazz songs that Curtis has on his cellphone.
He asked how many of them go in a room, turn off the lights and play their trumpet or drums, and one girl raised her hand. Curtis advised all of them to do it.
“You play your instrument without any lights on, and just listen and play. Make stuff up from the ideas that you build from learning songs like this,” Curtis told them.
“Improvising to me is just taking a song like this and embellishing the melody,” he added. “Just to make it your own, but you’ve got to stay in the performance though, you can’t go all crazy.”
Curtis told the students to play a few seconds of a random melody. Then he worked his magic and turned that simple melody into a song that he improvised right in front of them. Many of the students laughed and seemed to be intrigued with his improvisation skills.
“You don’t need to play loud and you don’t need to play high to be a good improviser,” he told them. “You just need to play smooth.”
After Curtis’ class, the students moved on to their next clinic. Other workshops included trumpet with Jeff Karlson; Tanya Antonsen working with flute players; choral movement with Kim Stone; saxophones with Dave Kiffer; and Jillian Pollock teaching musicians conditioning and ukuleles.
Also hosting workshops were Roy McPherson, teaching jazz band; Jess Berto, teaching movement and music; Elizabeth Nelson, playing theater games with the students; and Chazz Gist holding a drum circle.
The Scattered Sunshine Trombone Choir also performed for the middle school students, and the Kayhi choir, drumline and band worked with the middle school students.
In one workshop led by members of the Kayhi choir, the high school students were teaching the middle school choir students how to circle sing and scat sing. Scat singing is vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.
In an all-student filled choir room, the Kayhi choir took turns improvising melodies and rhythms using their voice as an instrument. They asked which middle school students, wanted to try it out, and a few did.
Then they had the students close their eyes, and raise their hand if they wanted to try scatting. The high schoolers would tap on the shoulder of a student who had their hand raised who would then give scat singing a go.
“It’s actually like a lot more simple than you would think,” Kayhi senior McKenzie Thomas said. “You could sing like one note and it would be perfectly fine.”
Another high school choir member told the middle school students from Ketchikan Charter School MS, Schoenbar Middle School and Klawock Middle School that scatting is just making up sounds as they go — so there’s no way to make a mistake.
“If you make mistakes, just call it jazz,” Charlamay Hendren added.