The two sides faced each other, their front lines less than 10 feet apart.
To the east, while their numbers were greater and they occupied the high ground, the citizenry wore only street clothes, and their ages ranged from toddlers to the town elders.
To the west, however, the ranks were younger and more disciplined, wearing crisp uniforms and carrying shiny implements.
Some wielded sticks and mallets.
Their eyes were focused on their leaders. When necessary, their ranks merged and divided seamlessly.
And at every turn, the forces to the west prevailed.
So it was at the Instrumental Band Music Festival, held at Tokay High School and put together by the Lodi Unified School District.
With their shiny brass, wind and percussion instruments, 350 or so young musicians from the district's elementary and middle schools filled the gym's hardwood floor.
The ranks to the east, of course, were the parents and friends of the district's young brass, wind and percussion players. The high ground they held was gym's retractable grandstands.
To the west, the young musicians soared through 14 musical numbers in under an hour.
Those early to the event heard a cacophony of practicing, warming up and tuning that slowly gained focus as performance time drew near. The players watched their musical directors for guidance, and the room began to quiet.
Superbly emceed by LUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett, an occasional guitarist and former clarinetist, the show opened with the "Star Spangled Banner," capably performed by the Houston Middle Band under the direction of Beth Sanders.
Next, the Morada Middle band played "When the Saints March Around the World," an international take on the old New Orleans standard. The band shifted styles from a Latin rhythm, to a march, to a broad swing and back again as they put the old warhorse of a tune through its paces.
The Delta Sierra Middle band followed with "Watermelon Kokomo," which blended Herbie Hancock's jazz classic "Watermelon Man" with the Beach Boys' summer anthem "Kokomo."
Though sound system feedback caused the band to have to stop after a few bars, the band recovered nicely, and played with a lilting, gentle swing.
While the other band was playing, a couple of the drummers from Morada's band killed time by taking turns playing with an Etch-A-Sketch.
Then came the big guns: The 120 student-strong All District Elementary Band literally took center court and filled the room with the brassy "Military Escort March" by Harold Bennet. Retired LUSD music director Bob Romans was called out of retirement to lead the band. Romans taught music in Lodi Schools for 25 years.
"I like to pick really hard music that makes the kids stretch," Romans said. "Otherwise they get bored." When Houston Middle School's band took over next with the challenging "Chester Variations," by Elliot Del Borgio. Under the direction of Carole Romans, the concentration on the faces of the musicians obviated any suggestion that these students were bored.
Next, the Lodi Middle School band played "Escapada" by David Moore, smoothly performed and led by the energetic conducting of Rosemary Baschal. The big band of Woodbridge took over next, complete with five percussionists. They played the complex and ambitious "Fantasia 2000" arranged by Jay Borcock, which mixed famous melodies from Beethoven, Stravinsky and Dukas. Carefully played and conducted, the piece was a highlight of the evening.
After Delta Sierra/Elkhorn played the lovely "Radiance" by Sean O'Laoughlin, Morada Middle School's band played the oddest tune of the evening, "George of the Jungle" by Stan Worth and Sheldon Allman, complete with jungle noises and some very strange rhythmic breaks.
Then came Houston Middle School Band's version of the theme from "Mission Impossible." In the hippest style, they played in the original Lalo Schiffrin style, not U2's squared-off rendition from the movie.
The tune also featured the only strings of the night, attached to the electric bass guitar of seventh grader Robert Dabbs. Dabbs also doubles on trombone, a pair of skills that could lead to a lifetime of employment as a sideman. Dabbs said he thinks that the night's performance was "awesome."
Next, the District All Elementary band undertook the difficult "Ostinato in C Minor," under the animated and direction of Romans. With four time changes in a minor key, the performance was the most emotional and dramatic of the evening.
"Sabre Dance" by Aram Khatchaturian, played by the Lodi Middle School Band came next, followed by the Woodbridge Middle School Band's energetic version of the "Cartoon Symphony" arranged by Larry Clark, incorporating famous melodies from a variety of cartoon shows, such as the Flintstones, the Jetsons and others.
Closing the show was a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful," played by all the bands at once. At that, the show was over, and within 10 minutes the kids, the instruments and the audience were gone. And like Cinderella's carriage at midnight, the music hall was transformed once again into a high school gym.
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