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Paper bags can make a lot of noise. For the climax of the Marco Island Charter Middle School Band’s 3rd Annual “Salute to Veterans and Active Military,” the audience was invited to become part of the performance. School representatives passed out the lunch-size paper bags before the band launched into a section of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” and when their cue came, the audience blew the bags up and then popped them, making a startlingly loud sound – although the actual cannons originally called for in Tchaikovsky’s score are probably even louder.

The gymnasium at MICMS was nearly filled with audience and musicians, and it appeared to be a tossup which of those was in the majority. The audience was up in the bleachers, except for veterans and their guests, who had preferred seating on the floor.

In front of them, arrayed in a semi-circle around Band Director Martie Miller, was an enormous group of middle school musicians. According to MICMS Principal and CEO George Abounader, the school has 152 students in the band program, out of a total enrolment of 381 students. There were certainly more than that in the audience, not surprising considering all those students needed a ride home, but with the crowd packed into the bleachers, and the band spread out on the floor with their instruments, it was hard to say who was outnumbered.

The band members wore black, with stars and stripes neckties, and Miller conducted in the flashiest shoes in the gym, star-spangled sneakers encrusted with red glitter and red, white and blue star-bedecked socks. She often conducted just one side of the band, with dozens of horns, woodwinds, drums, cymbals, and xylophones on either side of her.

After opening with National Anthem, the program included a wide range of patriotic and martial melodies. Music teacher Robert Miller, Martie’s husband, added a spoken word component to one medley, including snippets from JFK’s inaugural and the “Some Gave All” poem.

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One number was very familiar to anyone who attends patriotic ceremonies on the island. First the band played “God Bless America,” and then longtime Marco Island architect and retired Army Col. Herb Savage, resplendent in his full-dress uniform, led the audience in singing the song, with the preamble sung solo by Herb’s wife Emily. Herb Savage is 99 years old, and could be studied in programs such as Blue Zones to discover the secret of his Energizer Bunny-like youthfulness.

A Civil War medley, the “Last Full Measure,” a line taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, included melodies from “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” and ‘Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier.” The band played “Ashokan Farewell,” which has become associated with the War Between the States since serving as the theme for Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary, was played as a separate piece.

Before the 1812 Overture, which refers not to our War of 1812 but Napoleon’s attempted conquest of Russia, the school “passed the hat” in a love offering to defer some of the expenses they must meet as a charter school, particularly one with an ambitious eight-period schedule, allowing the students to participate in more electives, such as band.

And the last piece, a medley of Sousa marches, featured a piccolo trio, made up of students Jovani Ramos and Celine Schauer, along with band director Martie Miller.

 

 

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