MANCHESTER – Manchester High School’s Modern Band Club made their long-awaited debut on Monday, performing in concert for the first time since music teacher Matt DeSorbo formed the band three years ago.
“This is our first year back and all the kids are looking forward to going,” DeSorbo said before the concert.
DeSorbo said he created the Modern Band Club in 2018 to engage students who love music but might not be interested in traditional ensembles such as backing vocals or concert bands.
COVID-19 had so far prevented the band from performing in a live concert.
But on Monday, the group’s 13 members took the stage in front of around 100 people in the high school’s Bailey auditorium, ushering in a new era of music education at MHS.
The Modern Band Club is an after-school program where students perform popular music of various genres as part of a contemporary rock band. The concept dates back to Dave Wish, founder and CEO of a nonprofit music education organization called Little Kids Rock.
Wish, a former music teacher, started the organization in part in response to lack of funding for music education. Today, Little Kids Rock provides free music and instrument lessons to school districts while encouraging students to play the music they know and love.
Wish said he coined the term “modern band” about 10 years ago to describe students who came together to play popular music. Since then DeSorbo, who is a certified Little Kids Rock instructor, said the modern band movement has gained popularity, gaining recognition “as a legitimate and serious avenue for music education.”
More than 2,000 schools across the country use the modern harmony orchestra as part of their program, Wish said. And 67 colleges teach modern groups to their music education students.
“We help teachers create music programs that are as diverse as the children they serve,” Wish said.
One of the hallmarks of Wish’s modern band movement is that its members have the flexibility to choose which songs they want to play. It’s a strategy that Wish says is helping democratize music education.
“We want to empower children to use the arts to express themselves, and it strengthens our democracy, when you give them a voice,” Wish said.
Modern Band Club students have free rein to learn whatever they want, as long as the material is appropriate. DeSorbo said he has “little veto power” when students vote on songs they would like to perform.
Greg Sheffield, senior at MHS, who sings and plays guitar for the band, said the ability to select music is one of the things that makes the Modern Band Club unique.
“You can hear the music you like, and there are many different origins in this band, so you can share your music with other people,” Sheffield said. “We have a fairly diverse selection. “
On Monday, the group performed an eclectic mix of music spanning multiple genres. He debuted with the grunge rock hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, and went on to play quintessential rock anthems, such as “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes and “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters.
Showcasing their musical variety, the group closed with “Dynamite,” a popular song by Korean group BTS. DeSorbo said he was “fascinated” by the song selection.
“It’s a wide range of things I wouldn’t have expected from them,” DeSorbo said.
The skills that students learn by being a part of the Modern Band Club are also what helps set it apart from other traditional music programs. One of them is learning to engage an audience, like rock band performers do.
“If you were to go to a show,” DeSorbo said, “and the (performers) sort of came and ignored you and looked down, you wouldn’t be having fun.”
. “So it’s also something unique about this type of show. “
Moments before the band began their set, DeSorbo grabbed a microphone and invited members of the audience to pretend to attend a rock performance.
“Don’t rush into the pit,” DeSorbo said. “I told (to the students) that we will be practicing our staged diving in another year.”
True to form, the show looked like a rock concert. The group encouraged the audience to applaud during the songs. Other people in the crowd lit their phones and waved them in the air as the band performed Radiohead’s “Creep”.
Manchester resident Megan Staples, 51, said she appreciated the band’s ability to blend their sound using a plethora of instruments.
“I loved the variety, from the ’90s (music) to K-pop,” Staples said. They really understood how to make this instrumentation work.
The group has around 12 to 15 regular members who meet after school on a weekly basis. The extracurricular setting works well for students, DeSorbo said, as it holds them accountable for attending rehearsals outside of regular school hours.
“Students learn a lot about responsibility and communication,” DeSorbo said. “If you’re not going to be (at the rehearsal), you must let me know.”
Although not an accredited course at MHS, the Modern Orchestra program has brought a creative and collaborative touch to music education for students at the school.
“We, like a lot of high schools, have a choir, a band, an orchestra, and now we have this Modern Band Club,” said school music coordinator Keith Berry. “But Matt DeSorbo took it to a whole new level in, instead of just getting together after school to play, he said let’s go play for the people.”
Austin Mirmina covers Manchester and Bolton.