Off the Record

South Whidbey Schools put music in their hearts forever.

“We are a spectacular, splendid manifestation of life. We have language…We have affection. We have genes for usefulness, and usefulness is about as close to a common goal of nature as I can guess at. And finally, and perhaps best of all, we have music.The Medusa and the Snail, by Lewis Thomas (1913-1993), American educator, author and administratorI’m sitting in my son’s bedroom at home, surrounded by music…eye music. There’s a giant color poster from the 1997 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival on one wall, along with black and white portraits of jazz greats John Coltrane, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Joe Henderson and Dizzy Gillespie. And although his massive CD collection accompanied him to college two years ago, remnants of a small record shop still remain: Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, McCoy Tyner, Jay Jay Johnson, Herbie Hancock, Marriott Jazz Quintet and the South Whidbey High School Jazz Band, to name a few.There are music trophies and awards collecting dust underneath his window, along with scores of yellowed sheet music stuffed into drawers. On the desk, a two-year old color photo of Max and his high school jazz band buddies Stuart, Lyle, Alicia, Eric and Arlin. All decked out in tux shirts and bow ties, grinning those senior smiles.Behind the door to his silent childhood kingdom rests a dusty instrument case, undisturbed. Inside, surrounded by tacky red velvet, lies the student alto sax we purchased so he could join the middle school band. That’s when the music began.Fast forward a decade later. As I sit in my son’s dorm room at Boston College, more than 3,000 miles from Saratoga Road, I’m struck by the similarity between his West and East Coast homes. Outside of the goofy zip code and seven roommates, not much has changed. Granted, the eastern version of his living quarters is much messier than his tidy western zone, due to lack of motherly reminders. But the dorm encounter wasn’t as scary as I’d anticipated…especially for an eight-man suite containing two quartets of male testosterone. I did bypass the bathroom reading material (with magazine titles like Details and Maxim, I didn’t want to inhale) and tried not to comment on the casual chaos of the kitchen and living room (although I did inquire about the major purple stain on the living room carpet, and was relieved to hear it was merely grape juice).It was the bedroom wall that was oh, so familiar…sort of like a grown-up version of the one back home. His room was plastered with black and white pictures of jazz musicians through the ages, joined by such luminaries as Marilyn Monroe, Edward Hopper, Jack Daniels, Vincent Van Gogh and the BC Eagles. Edward Hopper on the rocks?The instruments were nowhere in sight, but have quadrupled in quantity and quality since those early band days. At last count there was an alto sax, tenor sax, flute and a clarinet. The CD collection? Nothing less than the miracle of the loaves and the fishes … his bounty of music has significantly grown.As much as I miss my son, I miss the music, too. That’s why I flew back to hear his jazz band’s spring concert on April 1. Granted, everything had changed since those hometown concerts…the venue, the players and the conductor. Here I didn’t have to bring cookies or brownies to sell at intermission, or pick up his shirt and pants at the dry cleaners. Here he was on his own…sort of.I recognized less than a handful of people in the sold-out concert at Robsham Theatre…it was a long way from the auditoriums of South Whidbey. But when the house lights dimmed and familiar tunes such as Take the ‘A’ Train and Anthropology touched my ears, I was home. The 20-piece band under the direction of Sebastian Bonaiuto transported me back to a sweet and familiar time, and I saw Mr. Minchew and Mr. Purvis conducting from the shadows. Really.Jackie Minchew and Brent Purvis are the driving forces behind the music program of the South Whidbey School District. Without their dedication and commitment, I wouldn’t be sitting in Chestnut Hill, Mass., listening to my son play his horn. They’ve given their students a gift for life, one that doesn’t end at graduation. Just ask Stuart, Lyle, Alicia, Eric, Arlin, Max and the thousands of other student musicians who worked together to make a wondrous sound. They’ll have music in their hearts forever.As will I.(If you think music should be part of a child’s life, vote YES for the South Whidbey School District levy on Tuesday, April 25.)Sue Frause can be reached via email at”