We caught up with the head man of the Highlanders, Kevin Hartse, on the eve of Shadle Park’s appearance at the state tournament in Seattle.
“We’ve had a good season - only one injury,” he offered. “One of our flutes got a blister on her lip. But with lots of rest and Blistex it healed right up.”
How’s the depth?
“We’re a little light on the bottom tonight,” he cautioned, “because our star tuba player is auditioning for a scholarship at WSU. So we’ve got a guy who’s been switched from French horn after being switched from clarinet. Real talented kid. And for state, our first trombone player will be in Connecticut auditioning.
“I’d love to just reload every year, but I’m always scrambling to fill the gap left by good seniors who graduate.”
We understand there’s been a little criticism of the play selection.
“We try to mix it up,” he reasoned. “We do some of the tried and true, then we try to find some rock tunes that the adult fans will enjoy as well as the kids. But no pep band can do rap because it’s not real music.”
Anything that concerns you as you head to state?
“Yes,” he said. “Why can’t drummers understand that if you play loud, it’s bad?”
Every so often, someone calls to suggest that, in light of the ink we devote to athletes, perhaps the band kids merit some, too, for their comparable devotion and skill.
OK. Just this once. As long as we pick the band. And we picked Shadle - for several reasons, not the least of which was that we didn’t see anyone carrying an extension cord into the gym.
“Amps?” said Robert Kittleson, who plays French horn. “We don’t need no stinking amps.”
Beyond the pure brass-and-woodwind sound of the Highlanders, we also became aware that, a) they’re not a volunteer group like many high school pep bands, but are picked through audition, and b) they’re still playing.
And you thought a basketball team couldn’t make a band sound better.
“Shadle has such an incredible winning tradition,” noted Hartse, in his eighth year as the school’s band director. “This will be our sixth trip to state since I’ve been here, and I think that’s the most of anybody in the region. Kids like to go on trips, so I’m able to use that because there’s such an interest.”
Sometimes, however, the musicians cut themselves.
“If you didn’t know how to play, it wouldn’t be as much fun,” said Cara Borhauer, one of the band’s drum majors. “If you’re one of the less experienced players who doesn’t keep up on the music, you don’t know where you are. In terms of what you know and how much practice that goes into it, it is like a sport.”
And Hartse is like a coach, especially to the extent that he had to build a program. When he came to Shadle, there were just 25 wind players. Now there are more than 100. Four or five a year will receive some sort of college scholarship aid for music, a percentage that might elicit some envy in the athletic department.
Not that he doesn’t occasionally have to reign in the enthusiasm. He’s encouraged choreography - Borhauer’s direction of the Benny Goodman standard “Sing, Sing, Sing” is positively gymnastic - but Hartse has “had to ban some things - pelvic thrusts and what have you.”
Just goes to show you - the most rabid fans, at this level, tend to be in the band. At Shadle, it’s appreciated. “The basketball players made us cupcakes,” Borhauer reported.
Alas, there is no scoreboard that tells you who’s the best pep band. It’s a pretty subjective thing. The Highlanders get points for musicianship, variety, enthusiasm and class. They don’t boo and if there’s another pep band in the gym, they may even dance in support.
“Our No. 1 goal,” Hartse said, “is to have a good time.”
Coach, tell us about the makeup of a good band.
“Trumpet players are the most extroverted, along with drummers,” Hartse said. “The standard joke is, ‘How many trumpet players does it take to screw in a light bulb? One - he holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.’ But you want that brashness in your lead trumpet.
“Trombone players tend to be sarcastic, probably because they play an instrument you can’t tune.
“Tuba players are down to earth. Responsible. Serious. But they’re also the ones who want to go dancing off into the stands and play. Even in a symphony, though, the tuba is the one guy who changes his own oil.
“Woodwind players? They like to cheer, but I have discovered that clarinet players do their homework a lot at games.
“Sax players play cards, often for money, and they bet a lot. Only among themselves, generally. I haven’t lost more than $5 or $10.”
Thanks, coach, and good luck the rest of the tournament.
And whatever you do, take them one tune at a time.