Known nationwide as one of the best high school bands, Rio Band can almost always be heard making music in rooms M1 and M2. With the amount of talent available at our school, there is a music group at Rio for almost any student.
One of the most well known groups is Small Ensemble, commonly referred to as Smamble.
Smamble is a unique class, unlike anything else in the country. Teacher Josh Murray created the class to fit a specialized population of music students at Rio.
There were already concert and jazz bands available in the music program at Rio. These classes are fantastic for students who like the traditional band class structure, and enjoy learning music arranged for bands by musicians all over the world.
But there wasn’t a class available at the time that allowed students to express their more creative sides, and create music of their own. More advanced students who were interested in composing original music had to look outside of school for opportunities to express their own unique styles.
“I created the class almost 20 years ago for our more advanced students. The concept is that they can write their own curriculum, choose who they want to play with, play the music that they want, and prepare it themselves,” Murray said. “They can take complete ownership of the music.”
In the class, the students can take any music that they want, from any style, era, or genre and they get into groups of anywhere from 3-15 students to the entire class of 35 students and they arrange that piece of music. They rehearse the pieces they’re working on inside and outside of class, and then they go out and perform it.
Senior Jackson Irvine said the focus of the class is finding creative ways of doing traditional things.
“It promotes the diversity of thought and centers it around a main theme of music, which allows students to cooperate in finding different ways to do things,” said Irvine.
Murray says the class is important because it teaches advanced students important skills that they will need in the professional world, especially if they decide that they want to pursue a career in the music industry.
“I look at it as a bit of a social experiment because they have to negotiate with each other who’s playing what and when. In this class they encounter a lot of things that are also a part of the professional music world,” Murray said.
The students learn to work out issues amongst themselves which helps them in their futures no matter the career they go into, but especially if it’s in music.
Senior Anna Flaningam says having a class like Smamble is important because it teaches students lessons that they could never learn in a traditional-style class.
“Having no curriculum forces us to work out problems on our own and manage our time efficiently. We can be creative, apply our talents, and learn to cooperate with each other,” Flaningam said.
Mr. Murray is mostly hands-off in the class, and lets the students work their magic, only providing minimal guidance when needed.
Murray adds challenge to the class by forcing the students to interpret the music in their own way instead of just copying the original song.
“They play mostly pop music, stuff you hear on the radio,” Murray said. “But they have to do the tunes differently than the original; it’s not a karaoke class.”
Sometimes individual students take a song and arrange it themselves for the different instruments of the people they are playing with, or students work in small groups to create an arrangement of the music.
Each student in a group brings their own unique style and flair to the music and it creates a special piece that carries emotions and stories of each student who was involved in creating it.
The best part of the class according to students isn’t the life lessons though. Their favorite part is getting to play music of their own with their best friends.
“My favorite thing about Smamble is being in a class with all of my best friends making music of our interests,” Flaningam says. “Because of the welcoming environment, the class allows me to step out of my comfort zone without any judgement.”
The only real way to understand Smamble is to see them in action, at one of their vibrant, fun concerts called Smamble Nights.
Murray says that going to a Smamble Night is a different experience all together, it’s not just another band concert.
“It’s actually really difficult to explain. In this form, smamble is unlike anything else at Rio, or even in the country,” Murray said.
Junior Lili Valencich says that Smamble Night is a great way to see a different side of Rio Band.
“Rio has amazing jazz and concert bands, but Smamble is a great way to experience performances in different types of music,” said Valencich. “It’s a great chance to see some talented kids at Rio and a lot of fun!”
The next Smamble Night is Dec. 11 at 7 in the PAC. You can also see smamble play in the Playathon on Nov. 8.