Teens learning to make music together again

March was a month full of change for North Olympic Peninsula residents — including the teenage musicians at Sequim High School.

After many long months under the statewide mask mandate, face coverings became optional.

Daylight Saving Time returned, robbing everybody of sleep.

And in the band room, visiting musicians were allowed in again.

At 8:15 a.m. on a recent Monday, the students walked in, quiet and blasé. Then the space filled up with music: flutes, percussion, trumpet and saxophones, with a guest conductor leading the way.

Jonathan Pasternack, music director of the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, was the first guest teacher to walk into the band room in two years.

“It was almost like the first day of school,” said George Rodes, who teaches music to sixth-graders through seniors.

Seeing his students sit down and play together was “a sigh of relief,” he added.

Getting here hasn’t been easy for anyone.

Mandates for social distancing meant the students had to sit at desks in the cafeteria, working on their skills behind their masks.

“Bless their hearts … it was crazy,” Rodes recalled.

But that was how it had to be when the youngsters came back to campus after participating in remote music class.

The pandemic has been devastating, Rodes said. Many left the band programs at Sequim High and Sequim Middle School.

But on that Monday, the musicians who stayed came strolling back into the band room, lifted their instruments, read their sheet music, watched Pasternack’s cues — and played.

The conductor spoke to them of rhythm, energy and expressiveness as they made their way through Jaime Texidor’s “Amparito Roca,” a Spanish march with a paso doble rhythm.

Pasternack, at ease at the podium, wrapped up the lesson within the hour, and out went the students to their next classes.

A few still wore masks, as is their choice. Distancing and frequent sanitizing, meanwhile, are still standard practice.

Later this spring, Rodes said, members of the Sequim High School band may have the opportunity to play at the Sequim Irrigation Festival. He looks forward also to debuting the new drumline.

When Rodes, himself a clarinetist and longtime member of the Port Angeles Symphony, asked Pasternack to work with his band students, the conductor didn’t hesitate.

“I was happy to accept,” he said.

It’s part of the symphony’s mission to educate young musicians. Many high school students have performed with the orchestra over the decades, including several who have built careers in music.

And whether any of these teenagers pursue that profession, Pasternack said he believes in supporting school music programs however he can.

As the message on the band-room wall declares: Music is the universal language.