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Hitting the high notes: Dallas Brass jams with local students on stage to further music education
Dallas Brass performs the theme from "The Invincibles" during a Thursday practice session for 96 high school musicians in Gainesville.


Listen to Dallas Brass founder Michael Levine explain why the band places an emphasis on music education.

Hours before Thursday night’s performance for a paying audience at the Georgia Mountains Center, the Dallas Brass had a group of middle and high school students laughing, applauding and learning from their antics.

It was clear during the hourlong session, sandwiched between practice sessions for the student bands, that the Dallas Brass gets just as much enjoyment out of the educational outreach as the students do.

"To see (the students’) enthusiasm, see them get excited, that’s rewarding in and of itself," said Michael Levine, who founded the band in Dallas in 1983. "To feel like you’ve inspired kids to love music ... you can’t even put a price tag on that. We get a lot back in that way ... knowing you’ve made a difference."

The Dallas Brass’ performance Thursday night at the Georgia Mountains Center included two numbers featuring the student bands. The six-man ensemble, made up of members from across the country, tours the world to expose people to the music of brass instruments like the trumpet and sousaphone. Levine said the group stresses music education in every town in which they perform.

"As we toured, what I found is that there were no kids at our concerts. There was no interest. And we came up with this idea of inviting a small group of kids to perform on the concert with us, one song. And that would get them to the concert," Levine said.

"Not only does it inspire the kids because they get not only to watch us play through a clinic and watch the concert, but they actually get to be part of it. So they take a whole different sense of ownership, and the level of enthusiasm increases and it’s just very powerful."

Gladys Wyant, executive director of The Arts Council in Gainesville, said she had been trying to get the Dallas Brass in Gainesville for the past six years. She said there has been interest in the band not just for the group’s musical ability, but also because of that emphasis on education.

David Jones, band director at Johnson High School and coordinator of the student bands, said he believed Thursday marked the first joint performance by area bands in the last 20 years.

Some 75 middle school students from almost every middle school in Gainesville and Hall County and some 96 high school students from Riverside Military Academy and Chestatee, East Hall, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, Johnson and North Hall high schools performed separately with the band. Jones said band directors at each school suggested their best students and those participating were very excited about the opportunity.

"I think part of the excitement is, of course, getting to play with the Dallas Brass, part of it is that they’re paired with all these students from all the other schools. And I think they have a bit of a feeling where they want to show their stuff," Jones said. "There’s a lot of buzz and has been for the last two or three weeks since we’ve been putting it together."

Many students agreed they were thrilled to have the chance to perform with a professional group as well as learn from them.

"It’s going to be a learning experience," said Sawyer Baxley, a senior trumpet player at Riverside Academy. "I’ve always wanted to play with people that were better than me on a professional level, just to see where I’m at and where I need to improve."

Jasmine Mendez, a seventh-grader who plays flute at Chestatee Middle, said she was thrilled not only to be a part of the performance, but also to watch the Dallas Brass.

Caitlin White, a Flowery Branch junior, said she felt proud to be the lone bassoonist in the high school group.

"To participate in these extra activities, it really builds up a good resume for you as a musician," White said. "And to be the only bassoonist here, too, I feel really honored because there are other bassoonists in other schools in this district."

Though all the students in both groups had weeks to learn and practice the music provided by the Dallas Brass, Thursday afternoon’s practice sessions were the first time all the students had played together. Many admitted being a little nervous, but felt ready.

"I’m ready to go," J.J. Koren, a junior trombone player at Riverside Academy, said with confidence.

Adam Youngman, a freshman trumpet player at Flowery Branch High, said he was a little nervous "because these guys are great."

Joseph Rich, a seventh-grader who plays clarinet at South Hall Middle, also admitted to a few butterflies, "but I think I’ll pull through." He said it was "very cool" to play with a lot of different students.

Thursday night’s performance at the Georgia Mountains Center was the first performance of The Arts Council’s 2008 Pearce Series, which also includes the Golden Dragon Acrobats and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra later this year.

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