Wow! That's the only response one could have had at the end of two concerts that recently graced our local schools. The first was on Friday the 4th at Oak Park and River Forest High School, where three different student jazz bands?#34;nearly a hundred musicians altogether?#34;held the audience rapt for nearly two hours under the inspired direction of Scotty Jones. Over the course of the evening, the intensity just kept building?#34;through Monk and Ellington, Lester Young and Thad Jones. When the last number ended, the thoroughly jazzed-out audience answered the on-stage outpouring of energy and emotion the only way they could: they leaped out of their seats and cheered.
Then on Tuesday the 8th there was the Chamber Music Concert at Percy Julian Middle School. The brainchild of the soon-to-be-dearly-missed Ellen Holleman, this annual event offers a sort of grand tour through the musical minds of the school's young players and singers; the students form the groups themselves and play, well, whatever they feel like playing. This year's concert featured a staggering number of groups?#34;seventeen?#34;and, in the spirit of inclusiveness that characterizes Oak Park at its best, the performances ranged all over the place. Not only was there a classical violin duo that played Mozart expertly, there were a highly amplified heavy-metal trio that tore through an original piece with abandon and a singer who, with just piano accompaniment, took the audience's collective breath away with her soulful reading of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me." Here, too, the audience was on their feet at the end, loving the music and the musicians (to borrow from Ellington) madly.
In Oak Park as elsewhere, the schools present no shortage of concerns. Why do so many kids struggle, what's the right mix of fiscal support and restraint, why have we allowed the standardized test-makers to take over education; sometimes the questions just seem to multiply. But on nights like these the music departments are a source of unalloyed joy.
For Scotty Jones, Ellen Holleman, and the other prodigiously talented and hard-working music educators who work alongside them in our schools, no matter how much we paid them, it wouldn't be enough.