When sophomore Micaela Bennett-Smith attended the first Concert Band practice of the year, she noticed that junior Charlie Johnson was missing.
And when she learned that he had quit, she couldn’t believe it.
“I was disappointed because he’s always been in band and jazz band, and I was really surprised since his whole family is musical,” she said.
But what Bennett-Smith really didn’t expect was three other musicians quitting within the first two weeks of school.
A total of four upperclassmen, who all had participated in Concert Band for at least two years, had quit, with three of them leaving their roles in Jazz Band as well.
Johnson was the first, having made the decision over the summer.
“I’m taking three AP classes and I really need to do well in school this year,” he said.
Johnson has been involved in music since he was little. He started playing the piano when he was around 4. He also began playing the clarinet in fifth grade and the saxophone in sixth.
Johnson was the second clarinetist in Concert Band, and he played alto saxophone in Jazz Band.
He especially enjoyed playing jazz since he finds the music and style more interesting and challenging.
But Johnson said he doesn’t regret quitting.
Quitting Concert Band has given him a free elective to work on homework, and quitting Jazz Band saves him from showing up for the early practices at 7:30 a.m.
Likewise, junior Sydney Jackson, the first clarinetist in Concert Band, quit to concentrate on academics.
Taking two AP classes and an honors class and participating in extracurricular activities such as volleyball and yearbook, Jackson said she didn’t realize the amount of work she had until she found herself staying up until midnight trying to finish homework.
“I thought I was Superman, but I’m not,” she said.
So after going to two Concert Band practices, she switched into a free elective.
“It was clear that something had to go, and it just happened to be band.”
Senior Carter Brown did not quit of his own will.
Brown played guitar in Jazz Band and percussion in Concert Band.
While Brown would have liked to continue playing, his inability to attend morning practices forced him to quit.
Brown has a 40-minute commute from Granite Bay. His parents are unable to drive him to the practices due to their work schedules, and he is unable to drive himself.
“It is disappointing not to be in Jazz Band,” Brown said. “It is a huge loss in terms of an extracurricular activity for which I have passion.”
And after leaving Jazz Band, Brown left Concert Band too, since he did Concert Band only in order to do Jazz Band. Plus, “percussion isn’t really my instrument,” he said.
Instead, he is now a chemistry TA to teacher Alan Beamer.
But junior Garrett Kaighn quit for a different reason.
Kaighn picked up tenor saxophone when he came to the school in seventh grade, and since then has participated in Concert Band for four years and Jazz Band for two.
However, he found that his interest in band has been dropping since middle school.
“I felt like I was in band because it was something I was supposed to do,” he said. “But I didn’t actually want to be there.”
Kaighn said he did enjoy performing and playing music once everything came together. He also liked going to music festivals and competitions.
But “it was more trouble than it was worth.”
In addition to his fading interest in band, the quitting of the other two juniors contributed to his decision.
For some of the students who remain in the bands, the four students quitting was a severe blow, especially after the loss of last year’s seniors.
There is even a sentiment that the bands had reached their personal best last year and would never be as good for years to come.
“Last year, we had so many serious musicians like (trumpeter) Richard Whitney,” Bennett-Smith said. “They made the band so much better. We lost them, and now several of our lead instrument musicians have quit.”
Senior Ben Hernried shares her concern and is worried about the instrumentation in both bands.
“I was shocked and very unhappy because the people who left were valuable assets,” he said. “We needed every player that we could get.”
“Last year we called ourselves the giant killers,” he said. “We were small and mighty.”
Senior Jackson Dulla agrees.
“Last year, Jazz Band had the best year it has had in a while,” he said.
As for this year’s band, Dulla described it as “becoming great within the next couple years.”
But music director Bob Ratcliff said he’s not as concerned as his students about the quitting of the four musicians, even though the bands are always affected when someone leaves.
Despite students leaving, the size of Concert Band has stayed around 20 students for several years now, according to Ratcliff.
Ratcliff also said it’s normal for students to worry about losing last year’s seniors.
“Every single year, I always have someone that comes up to me and says, ‘What are you going to do without these seniors?’
“But the seniors are the best because they’ve been in the band the longest. You expect them to be.”
And Ratcliff also said he has some “really good” seniors this year.
As for the Jazz Band, Ratcliff believes that the students’ concerns stem not only from the leaving of the seniors, but also from the Jazz Band being more noticeable in the past four years, especially last year.
“The focus of the Jazz Band was to win trophies and competitions, and because of that, I think it was put in the spotlight a lot,” Ratcliff said.
“I really pushed it to make sure everyone (in the school community) was aware what we did.”
And the Jazz Band stayed true to its focus, placing first at the Woodcreek Jazz Festival, second at the Reno Jazz Festival and third at the Folsom Jazz Festival. It also earned a gold award at the Forum Music Festival in Vallejo.
However, Ratcliff explained that the focus of the Jazz Band differs each year, and that it had always done well nevertheless. He recalled one focusing on improvisation and another one on writing arrangements.
This year’s focus has yet to be determined, and even though the Jazz Band will not be as competition-oriented as last year, the band is still planning on participating in five festivals, he said.
Ratcliff also made a point of saying that the bands are usually at their best at the end of the year and not in the beginning.
Yet in the beginning of each year, students would often retain the expectation and memories of being good from the previous year, thus leading them to worry about not being as good as before.
But according to Ratcliff, the bands always continue to get as the year progresses.
Despite his assurance that the bands can be just as good as that of last year, Ratcliff was surprised when the four students quit this year, especially because three were juniors.
“It’s always surprising when people leave, but it happens every year. So, it shouldn’t surprise me, yet it does,” he said.
“Every time someone leaves, it has an impact on the band. Numbers matter.”
He added that finding out about students leaving after the year had started “made things more difficult.”
Juniors Kevin Rossell and Daniel Kong will be the only seniors in next year’s Concert Band. And there will be none in Jazz Band.
Yet the lack of potential senior musicians, again, does not worry Ratcliff.
“We started with a clean slate in September every year,” he said. “I’ll work with what I have and we’ll go from there.”
“There will always be someone who can step up to carry the torch,” he said.
“The sky is not falling.”