By Sue Botos
Most parents of student musicians are familiar with nagging their children to practice. But a group of Rocky River eighth-graders was not only eager to practice, but took its act on the road this summer.
The Middle River Band, or MRB, is made up of 14 students who play everything from brass to woodwinds. Over the summer they have performed in such venues as Normandy Manor, the Saxon House, the Cleveland Yachting Club, the Welsh Home and the Rocky River Senior Center, where a lunchtime concert recently closed out the summer schedule.
“This really showed the community what the middle school band has to offer,” commented school band instructor Ryan Hudec. Hudec served as a consultant and selected the musical repertoire, but had little other connection with the group – which was, for the most part, run by the students.
“They (the students) teased me about my music choice,” said Hudec, who noted that the selections were drawn from marching band tunes and music played in class. “A lot of them are in jazz band, and they wanted to play more jazz.”
The starting note for MRB was a brainstorming session by the band’s parent coordinators, Ann Stemen, Jennifer Kostic and Laura Gluntz, who were looking for a way to keep their children performing during the school break. They came up with the name, a play on the 1980s group The Little River Band, and a possible list of gigs.
“The kids played at Rosso Gelato at Christmastime in Old River (during the annual Holiday Walk), and the owner, Charles Bartell, said he’d love to have them play there,” commented Stemen. As a result, MRB became the Italian treat shop’s “house band” for the summer, playing there on six Sunday afternoons. Stemen said there was even a paid appearance at CYC, with the band donating the proceeds to charity.
Aside from music, flexibility was the focus for the band. “The parents went into it knowing what kids do during the summer,” commented Hudec, adding that vacations, camps and other activities called for music selections that could be performed by any number of musicians. This spontaneity was demonstrated at the senior center performance: One student’s music and instrument were left in his mother’s car, so he stepped in as “leader” for the day, giving the count before MRB burst into song.
Stemen added that a broken collarbone did not even stop trumpet player Siwei Wang. Although he could not play his horn, he helped out, sometimes serving as “conductor.”
The students even took practice in stride, meeting weekly at Rocky River United Methodist Church. A parent had to be on hand, said Stemen, but the young musicians ran the rehearsals themselves and prepared the playlists for each concert. “We wanted it to be a learning experience with ‘gentle guidance,’” commented Stemen.
Before their final gig of the summer, at the senior center, the students, attired in matching “Middle River Band” T-shirts, agreed that they had fun with the band during the summer, and that it was a good way to see their friends as well as give back to the community. After some giggling and jokes, it was all business as the musicians assembled their instruments and Jennifer Kostic settled them into their places. The varied playlist even included the classic “Ode to Joy.”
Stemen remarked that some of the nursing homes even had socials following the performances. “Some of the kids really didn’t get it at first. But when they did it (played) and saw the big smiles from the residents, they got it,” she observed.
As school begins and MRB melds with the middle school band, it’s uncertain whether it will continue on its own due to busy schedules. But one thing is certain: Hudec will have over a dozen eighth-graders who not only practiced over the summer, but got performing experience as well.