COTTONWOOD – At 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20 and 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, Mingus Union High School’s rock band will take the stage at Thunder Valley Rally.
Playing one of the Verde Valley’s most important musical shows of the year won’t be the first time this group of aspiring musicians will play to an audience.
And with shows later this year scheduled at Walkin’ on Main, as well as the school’s auditorium, it won’t be the last time.
“The city has been so supportive. They want us to have our own stage because the kids really can get a crowd going when we play out,” said Emily Meyer, Mingus Union rock band teacher.
Although the band has a working setlist for Thunder Valley Rally, Meyer said that preparing for the show has been a challenge because school just started in early August.
“We have about 90 minutes of music prepared for those gigs, which was no easy task to do in less than two months,” Meyer said. “We want to give our all to this gig because it is such a big event in our community. We hope to get more fans and press from this event. I hope to involve more community members, including local musicians. I hope more local musicians will lend support to what the students are doing. They are the next generation and they have a lot of great things to say.”
Words and music
Depending on who you ask, modern music is nearly equal parts words and sounds. This year’s band, an eight-piece unit, is made up of two sophomores, as well as three juniors and three seniors.
Several musicians either play multiple instruments or sing and play an instrument, such as newcomer Riley Whittaker, who plays guitar, piano and violin. Whittaker is also the band’s lead singer.
Whittaker said she would have been in the band a year ago, had she attended Mingus Union.
“I went and saw one of their concerts last year, and I thought it would be fun to be a part of it,” said Whittaker, who is also a songwriter with her own website, rileywhittaker.com.
Whittaker, a sophomore, said she hopes to learn more about key signatures “because you can never know enough about that.” She also wants to learn more about each instrument in the band, and she wants to “improve my high range so when we sing Led Zeppelin songs I can hit those notes more powerfully.”
Whittaker wants to one day be a professional musician, a singer-songwriter, and said her goal is to tour the world.
“I want to make an impact on people, and the world with my music,” she said.
Meyer said recently that her desires for the school’s rock band is continued gigs to spotlight her students’ musical abilities and to help the students improve upon their abilities by tightening the band’s sound.
“I want to provide them with as many musical possibilities as I can find,” Meyer said. “My goal for the program as a whole is to create as many local musicians as possible. My hope is that bands start popping up in the Verde Valley because of this program.”
One difference from last year, Meyer said, is that the vocals “have elevated the band and the students have gotten better.”
“This is the best the band has ever sounded and it’s because of the kids working diligently for the past two years,” she said. “The kids are constantly practicing. They love music with a passion, like me. The difference between last year and this year is that every year we get better and our goals get loftier. I want this to grow as big as it can.”
For this Year’s Thunder Valley Rally, the Mingus Union rock band is preparing to play songs by The Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue, Queen, Pink Floyd, Van Halen and The Who.
The importance of this show is not lost on Logan Trujillo, a junior who sings and plays drums with the band.
“This is the first big professional gig, this is the biggest and first real show where we are the center stage,” he said. “For me personally, this is the biggest breakthrough moment of ‘am I ready for this?’ I can’t wait to get in the flow of setting up and playing the full set. It is the first time where we have had protected time that is ours in a gig.”
“It was the class I wanted to take in high school,” Meyer said when asked why she created the school’s rock band class.
“This music program is different from others because there is a lot more space for creativity,” she said. “In the classical world there is only one way. There is no room for being different.”
Improvisation, she said, is a big part of rock, and its predecessor, the blues.
“I want my students to be confident creators,” Meyer said. “I want them to be able to approach a musical situation and be able to add to it just by hearing it. I want them to have the freedom to explore and not wait until they are masters of their instruments before they began creating their own music.”
To Meyer, making music is also about to understand the dynamic of working with one another in a band.
“I want them to understand their connection to others and to be the best bandmates to each other,” she said. “If they don’t have that ability, they won’t be able to make it in a group. Some of the best music in rock is not solo, it is group work. I hope that kids see that working in a group is being part of something bigger than yourself.”