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Kilts and bagpipes joined by modern beat

Some worry that the Dunedin High School marching band is losing its Scottish flair.

Published August 29, 2004

DUNEDIN - Back in the late 70s, while most high schoolers were flaunting disco suits and bell-bottom pants, Charlie Street was a kilt-wearing drum major in the Dunedin High School marching band, the Scottish Highlanders.

Aye, and proud of it.

Now his daughter, Kim, is following in her father's footsteps as a Highland Dancer and tenor drummer in the same band.

But alas, the highland winds are blowin' in a new direction.

In an effort to attract and include more students in the program, new music and instruments have been added.

But in this community steeped in Scottish tradition, not everyone embraces the change.

"It's sad. I came home from watching the band practice and I was nearly in tears," Street said. "The selection of music is up-tempo, drum corps-style and is starting to sound like every other band in every other high school.

"I like drum corps music, but it's not Dunedin's style and never has been Dunedin," said the 41-year-old deputy sheriff. "They can add more instruments to attract more students, but when you change the music, the style, the feel of the program, that's not right."

For decades, the music program at Dunedin High built its reputation on traditional Scottish music, based on the city's heritage. In the era of choice schools, many parents and students are drawn to the school for its strong and unique music program, which also includes two pipe bands and a Scottish dance program.

Typically, the band marches onto football fields playing the school theme song, Scotland the Brave, wearing tartan kilts and red military-style jackets. Bagpipes wail and tenor drummers flourish, or twirl their mallets, in a showy display.

This year, Kim Street is the only remaining tenor drummer. And according to some parents and students, the bagpipes are being pushed aside.

"We were told the bagpipes aren't going to be the stars anymore," said Sue Everett, whose daughter Heather plays the bagpipes and saxophone. "That's fine. But they aren't playing hardly at all this year. We are worried what will happen if the trend continues. The band may lose its uniqueness. We feel the pipers are incredibly special and to see them tossed aside is heartbreaking."

Everett said the bagpipers usually play about 50 percent of the time during a typical halftime show.

"Right now, as it stands, they only play a minute or two," she said.

She described the band director, James Dykes, who is now in his third year with the school as "young, enthusiastic, and aggressive.

"He's a very good band director but he wants more artistic control and the bagpipes are self-limiting," she said.

Dykes, 27, disagrees.

He said that the assessment was premature and parents are jumping to conclusions.

"The show isn't done yet," he said. "(The bagpipers) will probably be performing during two-thirds of the seven- or eight-minute halftime show.

"The pipers, the kilts, the dancers, the tenor drums are all here to stay. We aren't getting rid of them," he said. "I love bagpipes. I grew up in Lake Wales, we were the mighty Highlanders, we had bagpipes and I was recruited because of my background."

He added that the band, which consists of about 90 members, has grown by about 20 percent since he became director.

As far as the lack of showy tenor drummers, Dykes said that the band lost several tenor drummers when they graduated and that there is only one drummer left because students choose what instrument they want to play.

More drummers may be added later, he said.

Karen Dombrowski, said her son Paul, 16, is learning to play a tenor drum. She sees the changes as positive.

"Mr. Dykes is wonderful, he's a great mentor," she said. "He took my son, who didn't even want to be in band, and fueled his interests. He now can play three instruments and is learning a fourth. I don't think (Dykes is) taking the band in a new direction, he's just trying some new and different things."

Some of those new and different things include a percussion ensemble, with instruments like cymbals, tambourines, bells and xylophones that will play on the sidelines during half-time shows.

"It enhances the sound of the band and has doubled the number of kids in percussion," Dykes said.

Five tuned bass drums, popular in modern marching bands and drum corps, have been added, much to the chagrin of students like Calvin Doyle, 17, a piper.

"I hate the sounds of the five bass drums. It doesn't sound like traditional Scottish to me," he said. "I liked it better the old way."

Dr. Mildred Reed, Dunedin's principal, acknowledged the look and makeup of the band is changing.

"People shouldn't be afraid of change. We have to embrace it," she said. "We are here to meet the needs and desires of the kids and if they want to be a part of the band, groovy. This is an inclusive program. All the students are stars."

Tom Brittain, assistant principal in charge of activities and athletics, said the band program was thriving under Dykes' leadership and that could net higher grades for students in the end.

He conducted a study at the school for his dissertation, which compared grade point averages with involvement in extracurricular activities.

"The average grade point average for students who participate in no extra-curricular activities is 2.2. Those who participate in one club or activity averaged 2.7; two activities averaged 2.9 and those with three or more activities had over 3.0 averages."

Kyle Johnson, the assistant principal at the school who oversees the band program, said nothing was being taken away from the band.

"We are just adding more to it. Those that wish to immerse themselves in Scottish culture can be in the pipe bands. In the land of choice, it's important to appeal to as many as possible."

Kim Street, 14, Charlie Street's daughter, said she could understand both sides' arguments.

"Some people like the changes and others think the change is too much," she said. "I prefer traditional Scottish music. The positive is that we have a larger percussion section, but the negative is that it is not as unique."

[Last modified August 29, 2004, 01:42:22]

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