Photo Gallery | MMRHS Band rehearses at The Mahaiwe
GREAT BARRINGTON — A bright yellow trumpet statue is perched outside of Monument Mountain Regional High School, next to the sign that declares it "Home of the Spartans."
But since the school opened under a regionalized district in 1968, it's also been home to the Monument Mountain high school band, orchestra and choral programs. And it's where Jeffrey "Jeff" Stevens, an alumnus of the band program and band instructor for the past 34 years, first honed the instrumental skills and musical knowledge that he's passed on to his students as a master trumpeter.
This June, he'll be passing the baton onto the next band leader when he retires from his role from the school.
But for now, he's been busy getting his students and himself ready for one of their biggest performances of the school year, the 33rd annual MMRHS Pops Concert, to be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday at The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 general admission and proceeds are a fundraiser for the music program.
The event will showcase the dynamic range and skill of the 45-member band performing works by Aaron Copland, Alfred Reed, Leroy Anderson, and Woody Guthrie; and the 28-member jazz ensemble, playing the music of Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Cole Porter, Gordon Goodwin, and Tower of Power.
"Having worked with Jeff and having him be our band director and music department leader has been an exceptional opportunity for our students and school as a whole," said Monument Principal Marianne Young. "Because of the passion he's had for music, our students have always been in the presence of a master. He recognizes great music when he hears it and shares that with out kids. He's the real deal."
Stevens said he came to the school as a student under director Reuel Sheldon, who Stevens said helped channel and orchestrate the energy and creativity of a new school and students and staff from the newly joined towns.
"He's the one who started the Monument tradition of excellence for the band," Stevens said of Sheldon.
After his own graduation from Monument, Stevens went out into the world, experienced college and working at a record store, and eventually landed a job on the music faculty of Berkshire School in Sheffield. Three years later, a position opened up at his alma mater in 1982, and Stevens said it's been one of the best decisions he's made in his career.
"This is definitely home for me," the band director said of Monument.
"I went to school here. My children went to school here. To have the opportunity to have a life in music like this, to experience the joy of playing, It is work. It's hard work but very rewarding work," he said.
The school schedule permits for performing band groups to meet for 40 minutes to rehearse during the school day. "It's the only way we can do the level of programming that we do," Stevens explained.
During a Thursday evening rehearsal, their ensemble work showed. The concert band's pieces not only require them to precisely play their own instrument, but to include rhythmic hand clapping and other surprise moves during their portion of the performance.
To prepare for their role in accompanying the concert's featured professionals — vocalist Wanda Houston, pianist Robert Kelly, guitarist Robert Putnam, and drummer Jay Bradley — the jazz ensemble makes time to meet once or twice a week for two hours of intense rehearsals after school.
In addition to concerts, band students essentially provide a live soundtrack to some of the biggest moments in high school, like pep rallies, fall football games, the Special Olympics event the school hosts and music on stage at high school graduation at Tanglewood.
"All these guys are super motivated and super hard-working," Stevens said of the students.
Stevens' students said it's the band director's dedication and enthusiasm that motivates them.
"I think his legacy is just to share music," said senior Mercedes Girona.
Her classmate, Emma Adler, said being able to experience the Pops Concert partnerships, which over the years have included the likes of Peter Serkin and Livingston Taylor among others, have been a "once in a lifetime opportunity."
Mahaiwe Executive Director Beryl Jolly said the theater has been thrilled to host the Pops Concert for the past seven years.
"Jeff Stevens' artistry and talent is just so exceptional and creates such an incredible experience for students and our audiences alike. The students really shine and the guest artists add to that element," she said.
Monument senior Samantha Mitchell and junior Kevin Costello, who are both in the concert band and jazz ensemble, said knowing this will be Stevens' last official concert conducting them has pushed them to maintain that tradition of excellence the band director describes.
"I think the fact that this is Mr. Stevens' last concert has made this program that much bigger for us," said Mitchell.
"Everyone's really motivated to make this one of the best concerts he's ever had," Costello said.