EASTHAM — The Nauset High School pep band stood under the frosty stadium lights on the football field, golden brass clenched in their hands, waiting to welcome the Warriors to the field. It was Nov. 2, and the temperature was 39 degrees. On cue from Daniel Anthony, the band members played the opening bars of “On Wisconsin” (with the words changed to “Onward Nauset”) as the football players in black and gold sprinted past them, ready for the game.
Anthony conducts the school’s orchestra, concert band, and jazz band. The pep band includes players from both the concert and jazz groups who are happy to be out in the November cold, partly because the conductor has made Nauset’s instrumental music program so welcoming.
Anthony graduated from Barnstable High School and got his degree in music education at UMass Amherst, where the marching band was a big attraction, he says. “Everyone in my family plays an instrument or sings,” says Anthony. He started playing the violin in third grade, the piano in fourth grade, and the trombone in seventh grade.
Now he is in his seventh year at Nauset, where his students revere him. In addition to the orchestra and two bands, Anthony leads a percussion ensemble and teaches music theory. “You can always speak openly to him and feel respected,” says junior Liv Prince of Orleans. “His teaching is wonderful. He explains why things are wrong. If a part is out of tune, he will re-create it on the piano and play the correct notes.”
Some students work on their musical skills in private lessons outside school. Anthony also goes out of his way to offer extra help to those who need it before or after class.
His teaching includes frequent opportunities for improvisation and writing original music, especially in jazz band. But he comes up with outlets for students’ creativity in all his classes.
“If we’re going to talk about how we might play a particular phrase,” says Anthony, “students have an opportunity to create their own version. ‘Oh! Let’s crescendo through it,’ they might say, or ‘Let’s decrescendo out of it. Let’s accent this note instead of this one.’ ”
His students say that Anthony is a master at creating ensembles that work even though they are made up of students at all grade levels and all levels of experience. Prince has experienced this delicate balance from both sides in the orchestra and the band: she’s been playing violin for 11 years but took up the saxophone less than a year ago.
“My goal has to be meeting students where they’re at,” says Anthony. “If I were to start on day one and say everybody needs to be able to do X, Y, and Z, I would scare some people off, I would bore some people to death, and then there would be a small group remaining in the middle who’d be at the perfect level for exactly those standards.”
To make it more possible for both advanced and novice players to get high grades, Anthony designs some assignments to be graded based on completion: the grade is based not so much on the content but on whether the student finishes and submits the assignment. Often, these assignments fall under a state music teaching standard called responding.
“Responding is listening and reflecting,” says Anthony. He asks students to assess their own performance and offer feedback from which he derives his next lesson plan, designed to address points of confusion. That’s one way he tries to make sure that new players are not left behind.
Junior Niev Witnauer of Wellfleet had played the viola for just four months before taking her place in the Nauset orchestra last year alongside students who had been playing since elementary school. She says Anthony is skilled at simplifying difficult parts for less strong players so that the group is able to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do, blending the sound in a way that feels natural. Often he will rewrite an individual part based on his knowledge of the student who will be playing it.
“It can be challenging to find something that is successful for everybody,” says Witnauer. “He does a good job working at a pace everyone can adapt to as well as choosing reasonable pieces for all levels of players.”
“I like to encourage students to challenge themselves, to work up to it,” says Anthony. For example, to adjust a part for a weaker instrumentalist, he might remove an eight-measure section with a difficult sixteenth-note run that a beginner would not be able to play at full speed. “When I initially assign the section,” he says, “they might not be able to do it, but their goal for improvement might be to be able to complete it for a later concert.”
The Nauset musicians present fall, winter, and spring concerts at varied locations. This year’s winter concert is at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 19 in the Nauset Middle School auditorium in Orleans. The players in the pep band will take their seats inside a warm building after their November performances in the cold.
For the rest of that Nov. 2 game, the band set up shop on the home bleachers, playing classic rock tunes like AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” when the clock was off. By 8:30 p.m., when the band members laid their instruments safely into their cases, frost had bitten their fingertips and numbness had set in.
“My hands get so cold that I can’t even open my phone,” says Lauren deRuyter, the first chair baritone sax. Still, getting the chance to play and to learn from Daniel Anthony and contribute to Nauset’s school spirit more than outweighs the wind chill.
“Oh, my god, it’s so worth it,” says saxophonist Prince. “The night of the last football game was absolutely freezing, but it was still awesome. Sure, it makes playing hard, especially with a woodwind, but it’s a lot of fun.”