Behind the Scenes of a Band Concert

Mackenzie Sloan and Addie Sloan

The woodwind and brass sections circle up, tuning their instruments minutes before the first concert of the school year. (Mackenzie Sloan)

Endless chatter circled the music wing as students from all grades warmed up for their seasonal band concert at Middleton High School. Freshmen from the Cardinal Band practiced alongside seniors and juniors from the Chamber Winds Ensemble, who were scheduled to perform both nights of the two-day concert. Amongst the conversations, many members of the band were hard at work assembling and tuning their instruments. Others took those final moments to look over the most challenging sections of their pieces.

On Nov. 16, the Middleton Band Department held the first of two concerts featuring students from every grade along with a variety of musical arrangements. Three of the four bands performed the first night: the Cardinal Band, Concert Band and Chamber Winds Ensemble who wore concert black. Students had to report to the music wing at 6:50 p.m. for warmups before the 7:30 p.m. concert. 

What at first appeared to be chaos slowly transformed into organized preparation. Each band moved to one of the three different practice rooms; some rooms practiced in unison while others split up by instrument to rehearse the most difficult sections. Despite their stoic appearance, each room was buzzing with excitement as music filled the halls.

Senior Maille Miller, one of the freshman band tutors, has witnessed how much the band has been preparing for months for this first concert. 

“It’s kind of like my first concert [all over again],” said Miller. 

Miller started playing tenor saxophone for the first time this year, in addition to the flute. She admitted that she was “very nervous.” In Miller’s perspective, the nerves never completely disappear, but “after four years I’m now able to take a deep breath and walk out” and perform.

“It’s a beautiful thing to see us go from sight reading a song for the first time, everything going to an absolute dumpster fire and then turning it into something beautiful,” Miller said. 

She was excited to see all the growth in her section and be alongside the freshmen as they experienced their first concert.


Before each concert begins, the percussion stages all of the instruments needed for the entire performance, minimizing the delays between pieces and bands. (Mackenzie Sloan)

The Cardinal Band played four songs in total, starting with “Prairie Dances.” Doug Brown, one of the department’s three band directors, deemed it a “perennial favorite.” They transitioned into an upbeat piece followed by a slow peaceful folk song. Their portion of the concert ended with a rock-based piece titled “Axe to Grind” featuring funky percussion accompaniments as the band stomped and clapped along to the music. 

“I thought it was amazing. I really enjoyed being on the stage… The freshman band was a lot more of a whole group [compared to the middle school bands],” said Lydia Keebler, a freshman Cardinal Band member.

In the meantime, the other two bands waited in their seats, enjoying the performance but eagerly anticipating their own.

As the Concert Band moved on stage, percussionists set to rearranging instruments. Senior percussionist Zoe Gureno, from the Chamber Winds Ensemble, explained most viewers “probably don’t recognize [the staging process] from the outside.” 

For one of the pieces, Gureno had to retune four of the timpani by ear in less than a minute, using a hidden metal pedal beneath each drum. Changes like these were necessary for the sound of the band but required lots of preparation before the performance. Still, the setup was never permanent; the following concert featured two percussion ensembles, “Shared Space” and “Tetra Current,” which required the band to restructure their transitions the following day.

The “Tetra Current” ensemble was composed of four seniors sharing a syncopated marimba quartet. “Shared Spaces,” on the other hand, had a total of seven percussionists switching instruments throughout the piece, hence the name. 

Both groups had recently participated in the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. Gureno considered the convention to be “one of the biggest [opportunities] in high school.” The groups each competed in Indianapolis at the high school level, performing their ensemble before a judge before receiving precise feedback along with some critiques for their next performance. 

Despite her recent international judging experience, Gureno felt more nervous about her upcoming performance, clarifying that there were “fewer people watching on Friday [during the convention] than there will be tomorrow [at the concert].” However, she hoped to find the audience of parents a bit less critical than the judges, she explained with a laugh.


Hours before their performance the Chamber Winds Ensemble held their rehearsal performing “Arabesque,” a crowd favorite the previous night. (Mackenzie Sloan)

After the concert, dozens of smiles and congratulations were shared backstage as the students left to meet their parents outside the Performing Arts Center, wrapping up a fantastic performance.In the end, Band Director Doug Brown thought the concert went wonderfully. 

“I was super proud of all of the groups that performed,” he said. “We have a really wonderful, hardworking and talented freshman class, but I also appreciate the artistry that our upper grades bring to the performance.” 

“It’s always a little nerve-wracking to do your first concert,” he reflected, but Brown said the freshmen handled it all very well.

On Nov. 17, the Symphonic Band joined the Chamber Winds Ensemble, which Brown considers to be a “super talented group.” Going into the second concert, Brown was confident it would be as amazing as Wednesday.  

Brown is looking forward to starting the band’s solo and ensemble unit after the concerts, and hopes to highlight many of the ensembles in January and early February. There will also be a percussion concert in the new year along with various Jazz Band performances.