The award-winning Mount Desert Elementary School jazz band is taking to the high seas next week for a concert on Isle au Haut.
The 26 band members and director Heather Graves are to board the Maine Sea Coast Mission vessel Sunbeam Thursday, May 5, for a three-hour cruise to the offshore island community of about 50 year-round residents. That night, they’ll perform in the century-old Isle au Haut Town Hall.
The idea for the trip surfaced last year, after the band played at the state middle school jazz festival in Newport. Graves said she wanted her students to have a “bonding experience” and, at the same time, perform some kind of community service. A Maine Sea Coast Mission official suggested a concert on Isle au Haut.
The band didn’t make the trip last year. The plan was revived after they took first place in their division at the state festival in March. As good as it feels to get a trophy, making music and sharing it with others is much more satisfying, Graves said.
“This is what it’s all about,” she said. “There’s so much emphasis put on winning. It should be about the process and the joy of making music.”
The schedule has plenty of time for the students to get to know the people and landscape of the 12.7-square-mile island, 40 percent of which is part of Acadia National Park. Once they arrive, plans call for setting up and decorating the town hall before taking a hike and heading back to Sunbeam for dinner, Graves said.
After changing into their “concert clothes,” it’s back to the town hall for an hour and a half of music. The band performed three songs at the state competition and has continued to rehearse others for their gig on the island. Still, that’s a lot of time.
“I gave the kids the task, ‘We have to fill one and a half hours; what can you come up with,’” Graves said. The response was “amazing.”
The full band will perform only for part of the concert. Among the tunes they’ll play are “Mood Indigo,” “My Funny Valentine” and “Blues in the Night.” Six of the musicians have formed a combo and are to play some jazz tunes like Mile Davis’ “So What.”
One student is to perform a vocal number. Graves and her daughter, Ashley, are doing an alto saxophone duet. And at some point, there’s going to be a jam session, Graves said.
“It’s just going to be a celebration of music,” she promised.
After the show, the girls in the band go back to sleep aboard Sunbeam; the boys are to spend the night at the town hall. On Friday morning, band members are to be treated to a community-wide breakfast and participate in a scavenger hunt before heading back to Mount Desert Island.
The MDES band will get some help promoting the concert. The two students who attend the Isle au Haut School will put up posters and otherwise get the word out, according to their teacher, Paula Greatorex. Both are in the eighth grade and musicians. Connor Maxcy plays trombone, Alex Tully, trumpet. Greatorex said she didn’t know if the boys are going to perform with the Mount Desert students.
As isolated as Isle as Haut might seem, especially in the winter, musicians do come there to perform during the off-season, Greatorex said. However, this time it’s different.
“It’s really exciting to have a middle school band come out here,” she said.
According to Graves, her band might even be more excited.
“They are totally psyched,” she said.