A Highland home of their own

 

A Highland home of their own

 

Date: November 24, 2009
by: Heidi Kurpiela | A&E Editor

 
 

The parking lot was packed at Riverview High School Thursday, Nov. 19 — and the reason had nothing to do with football.

School buses from Manatee County unloaded hordes of students and chaperones. Buses carrying senior citizens from retirement homes lined the school’s circular driveway. Under the fluorescent flood of outdoor lights, parents and grandparents poured into the school for the Kiltie Band’s first concert in the high school’s new 1,100-seat auditorium.

As people entered the lobby, a line of giggly Highland dancers greeted them in unison with programs and baskets brimming with paper cranes — 1,000 paper cranes, folded more than a year ago in honor of Charles Quarmby.

Quarmby, the past president of the Florida Bandmasters Association and a 60-year veteran music instructor at Sarasota and Manatee County schools, died March 8, 2008. He taught as an adjunct instructor at Riverview for 30 years.

The significance of the cranes was two-fold. According to an ancient Japanese legend, folding 1,000 origami cranes makes wishes come true. If you fold them in honor of someone you hold in high regard, that person’s wishes come true. So, it was no coincidence that after years of performing inside churches and rented theaters that Thursday’s Kiltie Band program came with paper cranes and well wishes.

“We’re very proud of the facility,” said Mark Spreen, Riverview’s director of music. “While it was a great opportunity for the kids to perform in venues like the Van Wezel and the Opera House, it’s nice to have a venue we can call our own.”

Spreen can’t remember the last time the Kilties performed on campus. Since he was hired 17 years ago, the band has floated between the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Sarasota Opera House.

Although playing these large downtown venues provided opportunities rarely enjoyed by high-school students, the school could no longer afford to rent the theaters, especially after they underwent renovations, so for the past three years the Kilties have performed out of Church of the Palms on Bee Ridge Road.

“It’s a lot easier to have our concerts here,” said Katie Stults, a senior clarinet player. “We have access to our band room, which is so important. You have no idea how many times someone has had to run back to the school before a concert because we forgot an instrument or something.”

The band long ago outgrew its stage inside the old high school. At its peak, the program had more than 300 students in it. The new auditorium stage is expansive — big enough to stage a musical — and the pit has a removable apron that can accommodate the band’s 50 Highland dancers and color guard members.

“Our old auditorium was nothing like this,” said senior Ashleigh Wheeler, a Highland dancer. “We’d be lucky if we could fit our audience in the old auditorium.”

Each section of the band has its own practice room. As audience members filed through the front doors, dozens of tartan-clad musicians milled around hallways, running between the rooms, tugging on kilts, pulling up knee socks and buttoning coats. The frenzied energy was contagious, and the sea of red plaid, invigorating.

In one classroom, students on the drum line crouched around a small radio, listening to a rap song before their instructor popped in his head and ordered them to turn it off.

As curtain call neared and everyone dispersed, the only musicians remaining were 10 bagpipers, quiet and unassuming without their giant instruments.

“We’re not on yet,” said Brian Becker, the only freshman piper in the band. Meanwhile, behind two double doors, separated by layers and layers of soundproofing, the band began to play. “Yeah, you can’t hear them, but they’re playing.”

“All the new rooms are soundproof, but ours,” laughed Jessica Hudlow, a senior bagpiper. “Go figure.”

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at hkurpiela@yourobserver.com

By the numbers
58: total number of students in the Kiltie Band when the program began 51 years ago
200: the number of students in the Kiltie Band program today
300: the number of seats in the new auditorium balcony
$1,000: the cost of one Kiltie Band uniform
$750: the average cost of a set of student bagpipes
25: the number of drummers in the Kiltie Band
2: the number of years it took senior Highland dancer Deanna Falconetti to rip open her “ghillie” dancing shoes.
 

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