Spring Break in Music City

Members of Taft’s Jazz Band and Chamber Orchestra traveled to Nashville where they spent time making music, and following in the footsteps of The King, himself.

“I think it’s essential to offer high school students as many inclusive opportunities as possible,” says Instrumental Music Teacher T.J. Thompson. “They grow through these experiences, and come to more deeply understand music, why they play music, and why they play music with each other.”

This philosophy drives Thompson to lead his students on journeys to significant music and cultural centers, where they learn a bit of history, experience diverse cultures through music, and create art in new spaces and with new people. They have performed Vivaldi’s works on stage in Prague, referenced Carlos Santana’s work during a performance at the Capitol Rotunda in Austin, Texas, and played, learned, and experienced history at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, to name a few.

This year, 18 members of Taft’s Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Band traveled to the Music City, itself: Nashville. It was a first for Thompson’s program.

“This was a great experience for everyone. We heard many styles of music in packed theaters and rooms throughout the city,” says Thompson. “We saw first-hand how that music affects people of various backgrounds, and we saw all of the care, discipline, talent, and passion that it takes to bring this music to literally thousands of people on a daily basis. It was just a phenomenal experience and a thrill to be a part of it even for a short while.”

Taft musicians participated in a workshop at Vanderbilt University led by two of the school’s music professors, and performed at University School of Nashville and outside the famed and historic Grand Ole Opry. They took in performances at the iconic Ryman Auditorium, the Nashville Symphony, The Listening Room, and, of course, the Opry.

“We got to hear Don McClean himself perform American Pie at the Opry during his Opry debut,” Thompson notes. “And we toured the Museum of African American Music, The Country Music Hall of Fame, and The Frist Museum.”

The group also had a most extraordinary experience: recording their own work at the renowned RCA Studio B in Nashville where Elvis Presley recorded more than 240 sessions. It is also where (to name just a few) Roy Orbison recorded Only the Lonely and Dolly Parton tracked Coat of Many Colors. The recordings, which you can hear below, were done in one take.


RCA Studio B Recordings:
1. Concerto Grosso in D minor by Antonio Vivaldi, arranged by Merle Isaac, featuring Steven Zhang, Eden Thompson on violin, Heidi Li, Hayden Choi, Augi Booth, and Madison Kirkland on cello, Tanya Muangman, Isabel Yang, and Farren Camp on flute, and Michael Ren on clarinet.

2. Mahogany Hall Stomp by Spencer Williams, transcribed by T.J. Thompson, featuring Vincent Chen on fiddle, Charlotte Murphy on trumpet, Ruhi Vidhun on alto saxophone, Topher Jones on piano, Andrew Dong on vibraphone, Allisen Yen on bass, and Carson Chen on drums.


Special thanks to Dan and Ligaya Miller, parents of Evan Miller ’15, for their assistance in planning the Nashville journey. The Millers helped plan events, book performances, and even move gear around town. They also joined the group for their final banquet where students met Grammy Award-winning vocalist Mark Kibble.

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