CLAYTON — Three students stand before their small-town high school, drumming the opening beats of “76 Trombones,” the show stopper from “The Music Man.”
At the end of the famous 1962 movie adaptation of the Broadway play, the band members’ shabby uniforms transform into bright red, their demeanors become those of a trained band, and their unpracticed notes pick up a precise quality.
This weekend, members of the Clayton High School band get to experience some of that magic, as they play the honorary role of the marching band in the N.C. Symphony’s production of “The Music Man” at Meymandi Concert Hall.
Senior Chika Igba, a drum major for Clayton’s marching band, is familiar with the scene, where the band pours out of the school to play to cheering crowds on Main Street. Clayton’s band gets to do that twice a year at the Homecoming and Christmas parades. This is different.
“I’m gonna look back and know that I shared an auditorium with the N.C. Symphony,” she said. “Being in that atmosphere is breathtaking.”
The band had 84 students during the fall season, 65 of whom were able to devote nearly a week to play with the symphony. Members had just returned from spring break when they had a brief class Monday with the symphony’s resident conductor, William Henry Curry. At the first dress rehearsal Wednesday night, Igba and fellow senior drum major Jessica Goodwin said they felt they had proven themselves.
“He said that we were much improved,” Igba said. “I was like, all right, now he’s really seen us.”
Clayton’s head band director, John Pearson, said someone recommended the band to the symphony. The gig became official in February, and Pearson said the reaction from the school was huge.
“ ‘Wow you guys are playing the symphony? That’s a really big deal,’ ” Pearson said, imitating teachers and friends.
The band plays the opening notes of “76 Trombones,” albeit with only seven in their band, marching up the aisles as the symphony takes over the theme, Pearson said.
In the show, the folks of River City, Iowa, are tricked into ordering hundreds of dollars worth of instruments from a con man, Professor Harold Hill, who convinces the children that he can teach them to be a marching band.
“(Hill) doesn’t know anything about teaching music, so the band was awful. We’re that band,” Pearson said.
Luckily, the band gets to come back out and show off their stuff in the theatrical version of the magical transformation, he said.
While the students were in and out for dress rehearsal and didn’t get a chance to speak with the professional musicians, Igba said the experience still inspired her.
“At one point (Wednesday) night, the pit played a chord and I was speechless, I was in awe,” Igba said. “I wish I could do this forever and ever.”