Clayton Valley Charter band shines at A's game after earlier rainout
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
The Oakland Athletics might want to invite the Clayton Valley Charter Marching Band to perform the national anthem at their home games more often.
After no-foolin' rain on April Fool's Day caused the first game-canceling rainout since May 5, 1998 -- and prevented the band from an appearance -- band director Joseph Scott and the students opted to return on what would be a perfect spring evening May 13.
Following their rousing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," the A's went on to trounce the Chicago White Sox 11-0 in front of 13,826 fans.
Backstage in a steeply pitched cement tunnel leading from Lot K onto center field, the band's energy was palpable. Dressed in royal blue uniforms, 51 students from Clayton Valley Charter High School clutched saxophones, tubas, clarinets, kettle drums, trumpets and assorted music-makers other than cell phones or iPods. Drum Major Zach Kopowski, an 18-year-old senior, held his hat -- and his composure.
"I don't get nervous anymore. I'm just excited," he said.
Marching at the front of the band for two years, Kopowski plays the saxophone in the school's wind ensemble and jazz band. Winning the post, he said, required teacher recommendations, an audition, and answering leadership questions, like "What would you do if you saw a band member taking drugs before a show?"
Kopowski enjoys leading, acknowledging that he listens to the national anthem on his iPod. Pride was in every footfall as he led the band, double-file, onto center field.
Adjusting to the coliseum's expected echo, Scott said, "(students) just have to keep their eyes and ears open."
In his third year directing the school's instrumental program, Scott is known to let the kids hang out in the band room after school. Band students' parents, seated in section 127, said Scott is so welcoming he sometimes has to "kick students out of the room" when he wants to get home for dinnertime.
Jesi Svoboda, 17, began playing clarinet in fourth grade, at Silverwood Elementary School. A senior, headed to study chemical engineering at UCLA, Svoboda said she fell in love with the sound of her instrument immediately.
"I can't explain it, but it's never faded," she said.
Hoping to become a member of UCLA's marching band, she sent an audition tape with CVCHS's fight song, which is the same as the university's. Marching and playing an instrument, she said, is a cakewalk.
"It's a magical experience," she insisted, "you learn the music with the movement and never forget it."
Scott said that because the band plays often, at football games and recently, in Hawaii in a competition, he's supremely confident in any venue.
"Plus, band kids are high achievers, focused, capable," he adds.
The band was invited to audition for the A's gig for the first time this year. He worries though, every year, about program cuts.
"We have so little support from the middle school programs now that elementary music is gone. I tell kids not to drop band. I work with coaches and teachers so we can compromise and make it work for students."
To stoke the flames of middle school-age students, Scott launched the Clayton Valley Middle School Concert Band Camp last summer.
"It's two weeks of having a blast," he said.
And dangling carrots -- like parades through Clayton neighborhoods, or "lawn concerts" families can purchase to support the band -- he said speaks to every students' natural desire to have fun while learning.
Sara Kommer, 18, also studying instrumental music since her fourth-grade year at Mt. Diablo Elementary School, switched from flute to trumpet. Hitting high notes and having enough stamina to march and play were "the hardest," she said.
Aiming for NYU and an acting career, she said band class is a highlight of high school.
During the third inning of the ballgame, band members who bought discounted tickets joined their families, receiving another cheer.
A portion of the proceeds from tickets students sold to friends and family was donated to the Clayton Valley Music Boosters general fund. Scott said he hopes the band will make an appearance each year and, judging by the final score, the ballplayers are likely to agree.