NASHVILLE, TN – Makayla Scruggs has been playing the clarinet since the 5th Grade. She’s now a senior at East Nashville Magnet High School and plays in the marching band and orchestra directed by William Jackson. Scruggs is going to Fisk University next year where she plans to minor in music composition.
“Playing an instrument for me is like getting all of your pressures out,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs sits in the front row on the left side in the band’s practice room. San Mirza is a junior. He sits in the third row on the right side with his tuba. The band is rehearsing “Beyond the Seven Hills” by Michael Sweeney. They will play it at the White House Heritage for Concert Performance Assessment in March.
“A performance is a lot more fun than reading about the Civil War because we’re doing something that we enjoy. Most of the band has a job or two and so when we do a performance we leave our reality to go into something else,” Mirza said.
Scruggs said Jackson can be tough but has been a father figure to a lot of the kids in the band. “If I make a mistake he stops the whole band and looks at me. He kind of just stares at me. He doesn’t even say anything and then he starts it again,” Scruggs said.
Jackson said with so many kids in the program he has to be tough sometimes to keep it structured. They don’t seem to mind.
“It’s the only one of the arts that uses both sides of your brain at the same time. You have the mathematical side of your brain. So you have to count, stay in rhythm, and stay in time. And you have your artistic side which means beauty and making something that comes to life with air and movement with other people,” Jackson said.
Jackson stops the class momentarily to offer an analogy about hitting the right note the right way at the right time. “It’s like somebody loaned you a dollar and you’re paying it back but you shaved a thin piece off the bill,” he says. Jackson holds his hands up and mimics tearing a piece off a dollar bill.
“You have to play back the whole note, fully. Hit it hard. So let’s hear that,” he says.
Without comment from anyone in the band, they pick it up and continue. When Jackson started teaching at East Nashville Magnet last year, there were 28 kids in the band. Now there are 104.
“With the marching band sometimes we play rap tunes and we would have a tuba break which is just tubas and percussions and so that part exposes us tubas so it’s a little nerve-wracking,” Mirza said.
When you hit the wrong note in a performance everybody in the audience hears it. “Of course we practice and practice and practice so messing up is not really an option for us,” he said.
“The goal of the band is not only to listen but to comprehend so if somebody is playing a certain part (before your part) you always wait and listen for that part. Everybody’s going hand-in-hand because if you over-articulate, it can throw the whole band off,” Scruggs said.
The Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation provides instruments to K-12 public schools. CMA has donated $27 million for music education, after-school programs, and summer camps to schools around the country. In Davidson County the foundation has invested $12.5 million since 2006, including $300,000 for Metro schools this year. CMA provided Jackson with 25 instruments at East Nashville Magnet.
“Imagine being here with 28 kids and you have just enough instruments and then in two years you triple the size of the band but you’ve never run out of instruments,” Jackson said. He said most of the kids don’t have the means to afford the instruments on their own.
Jackson went from 4 baritones to 10 in the marching band this year. He called up CMA foundation. “They said ‘Ok, so you need more baritones. We’ll send an email to our secretary and well send them over to you’.”
“The partnership between Metro Public Schools and CMA is a beautiful thing. I don’t know too many places in the country where a kid needs an instrument and it’s there,” Jackson said.
Jackson hopes to replace the percussion instruments in the drum line next year and add 8 silver Yamaha Sousaphones. They are big marching tubas.
Scruggs played a solo two years ago in a composition called “Reflections”. She remembers it vividly. Coming up to her solo she was comfortable but a few measures before she begins to play her stomach drops.
“I look around and I see everybody is watching,” she said. Her mother is there and brought the family. “She’s ready to scream and yell ‘Oh, that’s my daughter, Makayla!”
“She was ready for me to do it. I know she’s been watching me for so long that I’m used to it. Everybody else I’ve learned to cancel them out. I just focus on the band and keep myself calm,” Scruggs said.
She gives herself a little pep talk. “Okay, I practiced this. I have got this.” She knows her part by heart and doesn’t have to read the music. Her goal is to make the audience feel it.
“It’s better to close your eyes and play it out, not the way that it’s written, but in your own way with your own interpretation because that’s the way you make people commit,” she said.
The next marching band performance will be at Cane Ridge High School on March 28th at 1:00p.m.