Finding their rhythm: Monument Mountain jazz band students rise to new opportunities

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PHOTO GALLERY | Monument Mountain Jazz Band

GREAT BARRINGTON — For some members of the Monument Mountain Regional High School Jazz Ensemble, Thursday night's opportunity to open for and play alongside legacy big band, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, is one worth giving up a few summer days to rehearse for.

While during the school year, the group consists of some 25 members, a group of 16 have been selected to perform as the Monument Mountain Regional High School Jazz Ensemble All-Stars.

"This was an opportunity they can't miss," said Monument band director, Michael Gillespie, who invited students who were free this summer to join him in preparing for the gig. "This is wrapping up my first year with the group, but over the previous years, the last director, Jeff Stevens, got the students involved in a lot of opportunities that opens up to the ensemble what it can do. This is a chance to continue that."

A recent rehearsal included some saxophone players, a couple of trombonists, a trumpeter and a drummer. While a bit reserved when a reporter inquired about their rehearsal process, the partial group in running through variations of a Glenn Miller-styled selection called "Southside Shuffle," proved they could sound as big as any orchestra.

Nick Hilscher, leader and vocalist for The Glenn Miller Orchestra, told The Eagle that he's looking forward to the experience of working with the high school-aged musicians. "It's actually kind of unusual for us to play with other groups," he said. "It's a really neat thing for us to see that these musicians are learning what we do, and I'd think it's an exciting thing for the musicians to be able to come up and be with professional musicians who have gone through the ropes to earn a living with music."

After the Monument musicians warmed up, this reporter found them to be a rather entrepreneurial group. In addition to their willingness to take part in Thursday's public performance, a few of them also play in bands and record music outside of school.

Trombonist Kevin Costello III, 18, a recent graduate, and trumpeter Richard Stanmeyer, 17, have performed together in various trios and quartets at venues ranging from the Great Barrington Farmer's Market to The Rainbow Restaurant in Pittsfield. Costello, who's heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall, said he plans to continue studying music and playing gigs in the Boston area.

Kyle Germain, 16, has drummed since he was 4. He also plays guitar, bass, and sings. "Music is, like, all I do," he said.

In addition to playing in his father's band, Hack Monet, Germain recently recorded and released his own debut rock album, "Twelve Years Past."

For Gianna Bertelli, who will be a freshman this year, Thursday's opportunity is a chance to transition into a more serious practice.

"It's an opportunity to get me ready for high school jazz band," said Bertelli, who has been taking saxophone lessons with Gillespie. "Plus I think the chance to practice with a group of professional musicians will help us a lot as a group."

Hilscher was about their age when he first started getting into big band and jazz music. He said he first joined his school orchestra as a violin student, but learning the other styles became a driving forces in his studies and subsequent career.

"I think for any young musician who is passionate about music, that passion will drive them to work hard," he said. "[Skill] is not just something that happens overnight, rather it's developed over years and years. So for any musician just starting out, there may be — there will be — times of discouragement, but you just kind of persevere, work hard and keep practicing your craft. As time goes on, you'll discover that if it's meant to be, it's going to happen."


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