The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

The student-run community news site of Vermont State University - Johnson

Basement Medicine

Join Together With The Band


On a recent Wednesday evening, an eclectic mix of people, bearing instrument cases of all shapes and sizes, could be seen entering Dibden Performing Arts Center and making their way up to the stage. These were the dedicated members of the VTSU-Johnson Concert Band, braving the cold, snowy weather to attend their weekly rehearsal.

Adjunct professor Nick Allen, who took over as band director three years ago, could be seen setting up chairs and greeting the bandmembers as they arrived. Having played tuba in the band for six years and also having had experience directing middle and high school bands in the surrounding area – first at Lamoille Union and currently in St. Albans – Allen was the perfect choice to take over directing duties from his predecessor, Steven Light.

“As far as the band is concerned, I strive for strong community involvement,” explained Allen, who said it was his own high school band director who originally got him into music. “Johnson is the only place in the surrounding area where people have access to playing music at this level and my goal is to keep good concert band music alive for all.”

That might be a difficult task for Allen, if present trends continue, given that Johnson will soon lose its performing arts program, which includes the Music major. However, although disappointed, Allen remains undaunted. “Even with this big loss, there are still ways to keep the arts alive here,” he asserts. “It won’t look the same without the Music major, but we owe it to our students to offer as much access to the arts as we can still provide.”

One of those students is Zola Ksiazek, an Early College student from Lamoille Union who plays the flute and joined the band last fall. “When I come to practice,” she said, “I get this nice, homey feeling. I really appreciate everyone being so supportive and kind.” As for Director Allen, who actually conducted her middle school band, Zola said, “he’s so much fun to be around.”

Allen said that he regularly takes his cues from his bandmembers, whether that’s suggestions for pieces to play or any other matters. As he explained, “If the members feel their voices are being heard then they will be more invested.”

One person who is clearly highly invested in the band is Patty Jacobs, from nearby Jeffersonville. A veteran musician who plays the “mallet percussion” instruments (vibraphone and bells), Jacobs sees her role as moral support to the director.

“I have lots of friends in this band,” she said. “I help with the music, the gear, everything. We all have our parts to play; we’re all on a team.”

Another bandmember, oboe player Charlie Yerrick, was there from the beginning.

“The band started sometime in the late ‘70s,” he mused. “I remember we rehearsed in Bentley Auditorium back then, and we players had to sit in the audience seats.”

Understandably, the entire band has been thrilled ever since their move many years ago to the 500-seat Dibden Theater, with its 44-foot proscenium stage and its excellent acoustics. Given the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the theater, though – not to mention the band itself – the members have taken to expressing their concerns to any and all who will listen. As some of them wrote in a letter to VTSU officials last fall, “The outstanding performance space at Dibden is an existing asset for the college. The collection of experienced players serving as mentors to younger members, and providing examples of lifelong musicianship, is an added free and valuable resource for the college.”

Before rehearsal started, one of the authors of that letter, long-time flute and piccolo player Jenny Blackman, elaborated on the threat.

“As you know funding for the arts is tight,” she said. “And now, without Music majors at the college, our student enrollment has really dropped. Even without the major being offered anymore, though, we’d still love more students to join us. I can remember a time when there were so many music students around here that they were using all the practice rooms upstairs and even the foyers of the restrooms!”

Blackman went on, “The band used to be a training opportunity for Music Education majors as well, and they practiced conducting us.” She urged any musicians in the faculty and student body who would like to play to join the band at any time and mourned the potential loss if the band were to be discontinued. Emphasizing the theme of the band being an essential component of the college-community connection, she finished up by saying that “everyone just loves playing together. It’s an amazing mix of people of all sorts and ages.”

Jacobs, another of the letter writers, agreed with Blackman on all fronts.

“I can’t express how important this band is to our campus and our community,” she said. “The building (Dibden) is a resource,” she continued, “and now that the Arts are being gotten rid of around here, I am afraid that resource will go to waste.”

With the pending demise of the Music major, there are now only a few students left in the band. Director Allen said that this will directly affect the ensemble, as it is currently funded through course tuition. And while ideas are being floated as to how the band can derive its financial support in the future, “it now feels like death by a thousand cuts,” lamented Jacobs.

Regardless, for now at least, the band plays on. While the theme of its upcoming concert performance on Thursday, May 2 at 7p.m. has not been completely decided yet, Allen shared that they’re playing around with the title of “These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things.”

So be sure to mark the date on your calendar, as our silver-white winter melts into spring, and come out to support a first-class local band that is trying very hard not to feel bad, in the midst not of dog bites and bee stings, but of budget arrows and “Optimization” slings.

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About the Contributors
Russ Weis
Russ Weis, Staff Writer, Copy Editor
Russ Weis has taught Writing, Education, and other classes on the Johnson campus for over twenty years. He loves wordplay, (and is known in student circles as a bit of a weis guy), and nothing gives him greater pleasure than to be able to work (and play) in our rural academic community. Besides reading and writing, he also loves sports, including skiing, soccer, tennis, and, most recently, pickleball.
Destiny Herron, Staff Writer, Copy Editor
Destiny Herron (she/her) is a first year freshman student of Abenaki heritage who’s major is Creative Writing. Her star sign is a Libra and she doesn’t like to be involved in fights or arguments. She lives with her mom, has two younger sisters, and a cat named Charliee. Destiny is also into writing, as she’s currently writing her 4th novel: “Restoration of Corrupted Heart.” She is a horse person and enjoys riding whenever she gets the chance. As someone who is a kind, reserved, and thoughtful person, she wishes to make a difference in the world around her as well as in other people’s lives