Community comes together in pep band

From left, Dutch Knutson, Jacob Noland and Trace Annala play brass instruments in the Geyser-Stanford pep band during a basketball game, Jan. 18, 2012, in Geyser, Mont. The combined efforts of Stanford and Geyser high schoolers, middle schoolers and community members make the pep band possible. (AP Photo/The Great Falls Tribune, Larry Beckner) NO SALES

GEYSER, Mont. (AP) — As music director Misty Annala pulled Jacob Noland from the stands at a recent basketball game, he protested that too many years had passed since his high school band days.


“Dutch will show you how,” Annala assured him.

So the 24-year-old civil engineer grabbed a spare trombone and squeezed in between Geyser High School alumni Dutch Knutson and Trace Annala.

The combined efforts of Stanford and Geyser high schoolers, middle schoolers and community members like Knutson make the pep band possible.

But the band may not see Noland again. After gamely playing along to “Paint It Black,” “Shout It Out” and other pep band classics, Noland said he’d ruined his kisser for the night.

“It hurts,” he said, gesturing to his swollen mouth. “No making out for me.”

The trombone took its toll on Knutson, too. He usually plays the tuba, but on this night the band needed a trombone player.

“I love to play the trombone, but Mother Nature has made me a tuba player,” he said. “My face seems to find the tuba mouthpiece more accommodating.”

His lip swelled after just the pregame performance to the girls’ varsity game. He can last about five minutes on a trumpet.

“I don’t have a good enough pucker for that,” he said. “I’m pretty good on a duck call, though.”

The music, printed two songs to a page, is tricky, too.

“The biggest problem with pep band music is I’m bifocular,” he said. “It can be a real challenge reading the notes.”

As Geyser alum Jake Annala warmed up on the drums, he said, “Oh, we have 15 seconds and six people.”

Stanford band teacher Bev Kolar had no such doubts about the dependability of her students. She once worried but now knows the band will seemingly materialize from the stands and locker room when it’s time to play.

Kolar, who played the trumpet at the Stanford-Geyser Wolverines vs. Moore-Judith Gap Jaguars game, said Stanford and Geyser can muster about 20 students each, minus basketball players.

“We live or die by junior high,” she said. “They’re the ones who can play both games.”

When time expired on the clock during the junior varsity boys’ game, Stanford varsity player Conner Bokma grabbed a saxophone, Geyser seventh-grader Nicole Bernard picked up her tambourine and Jordan Vejtasa of Stanford started tapping on a cowbell.

It was pandemonium as students in grades six to 12 pulled instruments out of the corner of the gym and found spots in the bleachers. With students, teachers and alumni, the band numbered 25.

When Trace Annala arrived, he opened the case of the same tuba he’d played before his 2008 GHS graduation. These days, the instrument is generally played by Bart Vaskey, a Geyser 10th-grader and basketball player.

“Same instrument but a different kid playing it now,” the rancher said as he considered which mouthpiece looked the least used and examined the new dents.

Jake Annala made room at the drums for cymbal-crashing Wyatt Hungate, a junior who wore the warm-up clothes of a guy whose next appointment was on the court.

The basketball players are great about juggling multiple roles, Misty Annala said.

“Small-town kids are fun,” she said. “They do a bit of everything, play in the game, play in the band and turn up for BPA the next day.”

Knutson jokes that he retired from the Geyser pep band in 1971 (at graduation) and was reinstated in 1998.

“My kids got into music. I thought the thing to do would be to set a good example, and I started playing again,” he said. “It’s a cool thing to share with your kids.”

He and his kids would go “band hopping,” joining in with Highwood and Belt pep bands.

In the Geyser band, “Once I started playing, they won’t let me quit,” he said. “They holler at me, and I come help. I was delinquent last year, but I’m ready to start playing again.”

Playing music is good for the aging brain, “and God knows my brain could use all the help it could get,” he said.

Since picking up his tuba again, Knutson has become involved in several other music groups, playing with the municipal and community bands in Great Falls and the groups Impromptu and Pete’s Little Big Band.

At one memorable basketball tournament, the rest of the pep band was burned out, so Knutson and Kolar’s husband, Jerome, played their trombone and trumpet as a duet.

“I figured they must have had the gym doors locked is why the crowd stayed,” he said.

Playing with the pep band is a fun interaction with teens.

“You get to see them improve year to year,” Knutson said. “Tonight we didn’t break any glass. No one threw tomatoes at us.”

Knutson, 59, said the band sounds “as good, maybe better” as it did in his day. “Geyser has a wonderful music department.”

He hopes the teenagers in the band learn from his example that “if you like to do something, you arrange your life to keep doing it, whether it’s skiing or music or whatever. And, you’re never done learning.”

Knutson hadn’t seen the pep band music for a year, “so it was exciting,” he said. He doesn’t practice with the pep band “but every time you perform, that’s practice, is how I look at it.”

“After a while you don’t worry so much about the clinkers,” he said. “You just play.”

The crowd reacted warmly to the band, but applause isn’t why Knutson plays.

“I don’t even care if there’s a crowd. I play just to be playing with somebody. The crowd is secondary,” he said. “You get to meet a lot of people playing your instrument around.”

Misty Annala said Geyser has many musical families and students who help band newbies.

“We do a lot of mentoring,” she said. “Dutch has worked with a lot of our kids. We love Dutch.

“As long as I’ve been here, they’ve always had adults in the band,” she added.

“It gives you a strong core of players.”

Students playing along with musicians who know their stuff helps them learn, Kolar said.

Yes, Knutson said, “Us adults are full of advice.”

Knutson, Misty Annala added, shows music is for life.

“Our greatest hope is kids will make it part of their lives, like we do,” she said.

Just before the national anthem, the band played the school songs of both halves of the Stanford-Geyser Wolverines, bringing the crowd of more than 100 to its feet.

Stanford’s song is the “Notre Dame Victory March,” and Geyser’s is “On Wisconsin.”

The Stanford-Geyser sports co-op is in its fifth year. Knutson remembers when the two teams were rivals.

Gesturing to the court, Knutson said, “This is more of a team sport in the bleachers than it is out there, as far as I can tell. You just don’t have anyone in a striped shirt blowing a whistle at you.”

The band is a fun group by tournament time, Misty Annala said.

“I think it’s helped with the success of the co-op that our bands play together and have so much fun,” she said. “We have a great group by tournament time.”

As the last bars of “Iron Man” sounded during the home boys’ team’s introduction, a man in the audience said, “They got a good band. That Jake’s a hell of a drummer.”

Jake Annala graduated GHS in 2010 and called himself “a few years rusty” on the drums, though there was no sign of it this Friday night.

The rancher usually plays one or two games a year, enough to keep his hand in it.

“It’s fun when people come back to play,” Jake Annala said. “We do pretty good for a smaller band.”

Caleb Pollari, a Geyser freshman trumpet player, said it’s great to play alongside adults musicians such as Knutson.

Seeing him play makes Pollari think, “I could be a great musician like him and have an awesome trombone like that,” he said. “It’s inspiring for us that we could come play when we’re that old.”


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