Midcoast schools swing to serve

Jazz for Meals

By Dagney C. Ernest | Mar 20, 2013
Photo by: Kimberly Peabody Belfast Area High School band and choral director John Cameron adds his voice to a Jazz for Meals swing choir number.

Owls Head — For five years now, early spring has offered an opportunity to dance and listen to the Midcoast’s younger jazz purveyors in a good time for a good cause. The annual Jazz for Meals is set for Wednesday, March 27, beginning 7 p.m. at Owls Head Transportation Museum, Route 73.

The tradition was founded by Ann Parent of Warren, whose daughter played in the jazz band at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro.

“She still does, alto sax,” said Parent of her daughter Molly, who is an honor student at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Parent is still organizing the annual evening, moved this year to a mid-week date due to the Easter holidays. Scheduling has been a major challenge from the start.

“She put it out to all the Midcoast high schools, and the three of us who could do it did. The first was in 2009 and it was us, Wiscasset and Belfast,” said Peter Stuart, band director at Medomak Valley.

Belfast Area High School and Medomak Valley have played every Jazz for Meals since; last year, Camden Hills Regional High School came aboard and Wiscasset dropped off. This year’s event will feature Medomak, Camden Hills and Belfast, each playing about a half hour.

Belfast band and chorus director John Cameron said the first Jazz for Meals was an eye-opener, for both his students and himself.

“It’s been really great to see what other schools are doing. You’re usually so busy concentrating on your own stuff, you never get to listen to other groups. I think my kids enjoy that as much as playing,” he said.

Camden Hills band director Nancy Rowe agrees and is looking forward to this year’s event.

“It’s a real neat thing for our kids to hear the other groups. I had no idea what was going on for jazz in the other schools,” she said.

The open setting at the museum allows for plenty of seating as well as a dance floor, which gets a good workout. And the presence of the dance floor informs the set lists.

“I like picking out the ones that lend themselves to dancing. We will do some of the more polished pieces; we head to a festival in Virginia a week later so will use some of those,” said Rowe.

In fact, festivals and competitions are often the only way music students from different schools hear what their counterparts are doing. Jazz for Meals offers a different experience, one Cameron thinks is truly valuable.

“It’s not a competition, which I think is all the better. There’s too much of that in this society,” he said.

The evening is a chance to relax for the audience too. The space is set up cabaret-style, with table seating. Homemade sweet and savory treats are served, along with coffee, tea and cold soft drinks. Admission is by donation with suggested amounts of $8 for adults, $5 for students and $15 for families. The donation/admission includes access to the museum’s exhibits, so people can stroll around while the music wafts through the complex.

Medomak’s Jazz Band has about 14 players; Stuart said a couple also are members of his larger Concert Band. Camden Hills’ ensemble numbers 18 and is a standard Big Band format, said Rowe, with some doubling in the saxes. Belfast’s Jazz Band has 14 and its Swing Choir, the only vocal component of the evening, has 13.

“We still only get the half hour, so I try to mix the set evenly,” said Cameron, adding that Jazz for Meals usually wraps up between 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Keeping the show tight is a priority this year, as the evening will be on a weeknight instead of its usual Friday slot. It’s a tough time of year to coordinate three schools, given sports and drama fest and weather. But timing is key, because the funds raised will be matched through the $1 million Giveaway to Fight Hunger. Each spring, philanthropist Alan Feinstein offers $1 million in matching funds to nonprofits around the nation to help battle hunger. The more MCH Meals on Wheels raises between March 1 and April 30, the more matching funds it can receive.

“It’s been great, all the kids ask if we’ll do it again as soon as the school schedules start coming out,” said Stuart.

Of course, all the scheduling in the world can fall victim to Mother Nature, as happened in 2011.

“We got canceled by a snowstorm! We’re keeping out fingers crossed for this year,” said Stuart.

Parent, a nutritionist by trade, has been a member of MCH for 20-some years and said she would like the students musicians to not only experience the fun of playing for the public, but also get a better idea of why their participation in Jazz for Meals matters. Perhaps future school years will include a community service ride-along with Meals on Wheels. For this year, she said she hopes to crunch some numbers so she can tell the young jazzmakers how many meals their playing has paid for over the series’ short history. MCH Meals on Wheels serves Knox County, but donates 10 percent of the event’s proceeds to Meals on Wheels in Waldo and Lincoln counties to honor the participation of those counties’ students.

“It’s a real accomplishment that makes a real difference,” she said.

For more information about Jazz for Meals, call Parent at 542-7644. For more information about MCH Meals on Wheels, which has delivered meals weekdays for 40 years in Knox County, visit mchinc.org.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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