Audio: Music for the monsters

Area high school jazz bands perform at Halloween-costumed concert


Photo by Austin Mai

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Creatures and characters roamed the halls of Eau Claire Memorial High School as sounds of brass and drums filled the high school’s secondary gymnasium Friday evening.

Different from most high school jazz concerts, the 19th annual Big Band Monster Bash allowed students to ditch their formal jazz attire and wear Halloween costumes instead.

The Eau Claire Children’s Theatre sponsored event featured jazz bands from high schools including Memorial, Eau Claire North, Elk Mound, Altoona and Chippewa Falls. Most schools had one band while North had two and Memorial had four perform before ending with the costume contest.

With bands placed on the east and west walls of the gym, many of the 140 chairs and four sets of bleachers were left alone as nearly 300 people took to the gymnasium’s dance floor.

Lynnette Kobza, an Eau Claire resident and parent of one of the performers, said she knew the bash was coming up but didn’t know her son needed a costume.

“He only mentioned it to me this afternoon, but we figured it out,” Kobza said. “It’s fun to see all the kids dressed up and it’s great they got all of the high schools involved.”

Each band consisted of 16 to 26 players with some groups showing traditional setups of five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets and a four-piece rhythm section of drums, bass, guitar and piano.

Other groups had tubas, clarinets, flutes, bass clarinets and auxiliary percussionists playing bongos, congas and bells.

Arrangements including swing tunes by Duke Ellington as well as neo funk and samba charts fueled three hours of socializing and dancing for not only the high school students but their families as well.

Emmet Quint, a senior bass player from Eau Claire Memorial said the bash is fun and unique because of its relaxed environment.

“The title of bash puts it well, it’s fun,” Quint said. “I mean look at me! Look at my section!”

Memorial’s Jazz I rhythm section dressed as The Addams Family with Quint as Uncle Fester.

“Later during the school year, we’ll be competing against some of these schools,” Quint said. “And it’s nice to be able to enjoy each other’s company without the competitive aspect.”

After playing at the last four bashes with bands from North and Memorial, Quint said it was interesting to play in the school’s gymnasium.

“We were originally supposed to play in the Eau Claire Masonic Building,” Quint said. “But I think the gym does a good job. The acoustics aren’t ideal, but it makes for one hell of a dance floor.”

Quint said despite his appreciation for formal concerts, events like this remind students to have fun with the music.

“For our official concerts we play some avant-garde music,” Quint said. “It’s pretty modern stuff that is challenging to perform and isn’t very easy to dance to. When a band can lay out some fun big band charts, there’s virtually no pressure and it makes the informal events more enjoyable.”

Eau Claire North Instrumental Music Teacher Theresa Soules said after first being hired, she was skeptical of how useful the bash was.

“Last year going into it, it was really stressful, just first year here and everything,” Soules said. “I was not looking forward to it, didn’t know what it was, didn’t know how beneficial it’d be for the kids and didn’t know how fun it’d be.”

After her first time at the bash, Soules said the event is invaluable to the music development of her students.

“I thought it was the absolute best thing ever,” Soules said. “I love seeing the kids all in those costumes and it doesn’t feel competitive in that way.”

While Soules believes competition is good for high school bands, she said the best thing the bash does is provide students a place to play with no pressure.

“You could have all of those same jazz bands at (UW-Eau Claire) jazz fest and there’s some kind of tension in the air,” Soules said. “…everyone there wants to be one of the better bands, where at the Monster Bash you’re looking at silly costumes, you realize that people are using equipment that’s not theirs in a room that’s not normal. It was just not a critical environment.”