Bostonia is published in print three times a year and updated weekly on the web.
Agganis Arena’s Section 118, reserved for the BU Pep Band and the Dog Pound, as some rabid Terrier fans are called, is usually a sea of red and white at men’s hockey games. But on a recent Saturday afternoon, pops of turquoise and black were visible. The Boston English High School (BEHS) Marching Band, the only public high school marching band in the city, had been invited by BU Bands to perform at the Terriers vs University of Vermont game. The performance was the highlight of a collaboration that began almost by accident a year ago.
About an hour before the game, the two bands were introduced and began rehearsing: Beyonce’s hit Crazy in Love, Fetty Wap’s 679, and a medley of classic high school band songs like Hey and Stomp & Clap. When it was time for the opening faceoff, Aaron Goldberg, director of BU Athletic Bands, held up a small whiteboard printed with #96 Toxic, and as the puck dropped, the bands launched into the Britney Spears pop anthem.
The partnership between BU Bands and the BEHS Marching Band began last Thanksgiving after Goldberg read a Boston Globe story about the successful effort of the school’s director of visual and performing arts, Eytan Wurman (CFA’10, CAS’10), to restore its marching band. (Budget cuts had forced other schools to cut their programs.) Intrigued, Goldberg reached out to see how BU could help. Wurman told him he could use all the help he could get.
Wurman had to overcome a series of obstacles to get the band off the ground. Boston English, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest public high school, was on the brink of state receivership just a few years ago. More than 80 percent of its students come from low-income families and nearly a third are immigrants. But over the past two years, there has been significant improvement, with a rise in test scores and a resurgence in its arts curriculum and sports programs. After three years, Wurman last fall realized his dream of hiring a band director. Initially, the band began as a mandatory class assignment, but soon became a program students were anxious to be a part of. Today, the band, directed by David Carkner, numbers some 40 students.
“People had forgotten what is was like to really be invested, to have students invested in the culture of the school,” says Wurman. “It has been wonderful to see them become part of what it is to be an English High School student.”
After Goldberg and Wurman spoke, the collaboration between BU and BEHS took off. BU Bands donated nearly $20,000 worth of old instruments to the high school, and some of the BU students went to the high school’s Jamaica Plain campus each week over the summer to work with the teenagers.
“Having college music role models is such a rarity,” Wurman says. “It’s been wonderful to see students who generally don’t have any type of role model jump at the opportunity to get to know people at BU who are doing such amazing things.”
“For me, it was very exciting, because I was a high school band director before coming to BU,” Goldberg says, “so being able to reconnect with that age group has reminded me that that’s really when things start to calcify as far as love of music. High school is when you decide, even if you don’t know it yet, that this is something that you’re going to do for the rest of your life, and it becomes part of who you are. Working with these young musicians has been very meaningful.”
The two bands teamed up to perform together for the first time this past September at the Boston English football home opener against East Boston High School.
“It was really kind of cool,” says BU trombone player Dylan Marshall (CAS’16), “because I played at football games in high school myself, so just getting to go back and have that experience again was a lot of fun.”
Since partnering with BU, Carkner says, he’s noticed a difference in his students. “I’ve seen the students at the band room practicing more and more outside of class and outside of mandatory rehearsals,” he says. “They come just because they want to be better and they want to improve themselves.”
The collaboration has been a positive experience for both the BU and Boston English musicians.
“We have people in our band that didn’t even know if they wanted to continue music in the future, but they listened to the BU Band and they’re like, ‘Oh, I actually do want to do this in the future when I go to college,’” says flute player Michelle Beltre, a BEHS senior. Performing with BU students has influenced her in another way—she wants to attend BU when she graduates. “I’m trying to come here and I’m going to try to join this band. They sound awesome.”
The experience has had a similar effect on BEHS junior sousaphone player Luvron Brice. “It honestly changed my mind about going to a different college,” says Brice. “I wanted to go away to the West Coast, but I think coming here just for the band and everything makes it feel more like home, and everyone is a community. So it makes me not want to leave. I love it here.”
Julio Marcone (CAS’16), who plays tenor saxophone in the BU Pep Band, has worked with the BEHS students over the past months. He says that performing with them at Agganis was a great way to end the semester.
“It was good to see it come full circle,” he says. “It was really fun. I’m glad they got to see the BU-UVM game because it was a really good game and exciting, and overall it was just a really satisfying experience.”
For Marshall, the mentorship relationship has been equally rewarding. “It’s kind of cool to in a way to see myself in them a little bit,” he says. “Hopefully, if they go to college, band can be something that they can stick with, because it’s been a home for me here, and I think it’s something that can be a home for anybody in any college or university.”
As the final seconds of the game ticked away and BU scored another goal to seal the 5-3 victory, both the BU and BEHS band members gave a rousing cheer, chanting, “Let’s go BU!” The musicians gave one another high-fives at the final buzzer and played their last song of the evening as the teams left the ice.