There was much anticipation as we welcomed back one of last year’s festival winners and perennial jazz high school powerhouses: Lexington High School.
Lexington’s rich history of jazz excellence and award-winning festival appearances set a high bar for the 2012 High School Festival, and director Ken Gable’s group did not disappoint. Lexington High’s combo ensemble placed first-in-class, large ensemble placed second-in-class, and three students received Outstanding Musicianship awards.
The jazz program’s mission statement strives “to provide each individual musician with the opportunity to actively participate in the creation of art via the medium of jazz music.” The program operates in that careful balance between passion and discipline, and clearly does so with rather exceptional results.
We had hoped to gain some insight on how Lexington’s programs continue to perform at such a high level and, fortuitously enough, we ran into Alan Manos, current Berklee staff member and Lexington alum, who offered us his perspective.
Jake Feingold: What type of preparation was involved in performing at the festival, and what steps did the band take to retain a cohesive sound?
Alan: When I attended LHS, we would spend the beginning of each year compiling a repertoire, which grew over the course of the year. Rehearsals were twice a week, after school, and section leaders called sectionals outside of those rehearsals.
In general, the cohesion of sound was developed from the frequent practice and attention to detail, addressed both in rehearsal and in sectionals. A lot of credit is due to Jeff Leonard, who kept us focused and had an unparalleled understanding of the music he was conducting and the players he was directing. Jeff taught concepts, too. For example, while correcting the dynamics of a particular section, he would teach us the style so that the concept could be applied elsewhere.
JF: What kind of interpersonal dynamics did you experience among such skilled players?
AM: The dynamic of the band was quite cohesive for a group of 20+ high schoolers. Credit to the entire Lexington Performing Arts department here for generating a consistently strong interest in the jazz (and music) program. When everyone in the same room is working toward a shared goal, the results are often greater than the sum of its parts. I can’t remember anyone ever questioning or being unhappy with the musical selection either. Jeff Leonard always picked great tunes and found ways to get his students excited about them.
JF: Were there any experiences at the HSJF that are really prominent in your memories of the event?
AM: I think as a high schooler that loved playing jazz, it was nothing short of awesome to hear Berklee faculty and other professional jazz musicians give thoughtful and beneficial musical feedback about every aspect of the performance.
Lexington usually brought three or four bands every year — sometimes we brought more — and we had a lot of fun watching and cheering on our peers. At the same time, it was fun to see programs from other schools, which gave us exposure to other players and musical variety.
As for my favorite memory: while I enjoyed attending the night concert/showcase the first few years I participated, it was a real thrill to have the opportunity to perform on that stage for all the other schools. Most fun of all was getting up on stage and belting out the lead parts on Maynard Ferguson’s Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’!