‘We’re hunting for flats’

Students rehearse for Easter Sunday service program

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

HAMLET — A modern element of Easter is the hunt for eggs; hard-boiled and dyed or plastic and filled with sweets, it matters not.

Inside First Presbyterian Church on Saturday morning in Hamlet, though, a small group of budding musicians worked to find the perfect notes. The goal of the eight-person ensemble, led by church music director Curtis Swallow, was working hard to be prepared for their role — a significant one — in the church’s Easter Sunday service.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Tonic Brown on the alto saxophone

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Tonic Brown on the alto saxophone

Beginning at 11 a.m., the Rockingham Middle School group will be center stage of nearly one quarter of an 80-minute affair to recognize one of the most important days on the Christian calendar — Jesus Christ’s resurrection. The theme: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said …” (Matthew 28:6)

It’s part of a tradition of the church, founded by 20 charter members in April 1899, to welcome members of the community. The current church building on Rice Street was completed in 1923 and dedicated in 1941. Throughout the halls of the 92-year-old sanctuary there are cards for the elderly, coffee for sale and a poster board noting the importance of proper maintenance upkeep — and what happens when there isn’t any.

Under Swallow’s firm but fair — and when appropriate, fun — guidance, these hand-selected students will provide music throughout the program, from the prelude and lighting of the candles and doxology. Students in the ensemble include three trumpet players (Aerial Spooner, Townsend Day and Dylan Currie), one on alto saxophone (Tiniqua Brown), one trombone (Gabriel Davis), one tenor saxophone (Derek Allred) and one baritone saxophone (MacKenzie Spradlin).

Yes, they are middle school students. They are also getting paid for this performance. As Swallow noted on more than one occasion, “Act like a professional, be treated like a professional” — and, of course, get paid like a professional.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Derek Allred on the tenor saxophone and Gabriel Davis on the trombone.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Derek Allred on the tenor saxophone and Gabriel Davis on the trombone.

Swallow said Saturday was the group’s fourth rehearsal but first inside the church. The floors creaked and the windows rattled as Swallowed took turns behind the organ and playing a fourth trumpet to accompany the students.

As in the classroom setting at school, Swallow was quick to correct. He liked the search for the right note to an Easter egg hunt.

“We’re hunting for flats,” Swallow said at one point when a few students had been off key.

Though a mere 25 hours from their performance, group members took time to make light of some of the process. At one point, Swallow suggested Townsend take a $500 pay cut. Townsend was clear in his response.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Townsend said. “I worked hard.”

Townsend is expected to receive his full share.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com From left to right: Dylan Currie, Townsend Day and Aerial Spooner on trumpets.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
From left to right: Dylan Currie, Townsend Day and Aerial Spooner on trumpets.

At another point, Swallow was working with the students at a point where he coms and joins them, stepping down from the bench behind the organ and picking up an instrument.

“What about if we don’t want you to play with us,” Dylan asked with a mischievous grin.

That’s enough chatter. Back to work.

“Alright, here we go,” Swallow said as his fingers snapped off the count to the start of the next number.

The practice began at 9 a.m. and ran longer than the anticipated one-hour session. That was in part because more than one student arrived well after 9 a.m. It’s not easy recruiting students for an Easter Sunday service. This isn’t the first time Swallow has done so, of course. Lucky for him, it’s getting easier.

“It’s tough but in years past, it was even tougher,” Swallow said. “It’s like having a job.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Curtis Swallow will rotate from the organ to the trumpet during the Easter Sunday service at First Presbyterian Church in Hamlet. The program begins at 11 a.m.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Curtis Swallow will rotate from the organ to the trumpet during the Easter Sunday service at First Presbyterian Church in Hamlet. The program begins at 11 a.m.

Swallow first approached the brass section of the band, particularly members who sat first chair. A few weren’t available, and Swallow proceeded on to find a suitable replacement.

And the teaching continues. So does the practice. Sunday’s performance is to begin at 11 a.m., but the students were ordered to arrive at 9:45 a.m. “because I wasn’t too happy with today’s run through,” Swallow said.

On Sunday, they’ll have only one opportunity to get it right before an audience from a wider range of backgrounds than on stage inside Rockingham Middle School’s Kate Finley Auditorium.

Editor’s note: Reporter Kevin Spradlin is the father of one of the student performers.

 

Filed in: Featured News, Hamlet, Latest Headlines, News, Religion

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