December 6, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


All the doors are closed. Not a seat in the house is taken. Slowly, the conductor steps up to the podium and the sound man yells the familiar “Quiet on the set” and then with the power of over 400 years experience the magic begins. I am not at the Disney studios witnessing the recording of Fantasia 2000, but in Ely. I am witness to just as remarkable an event and perhaps one with more tradition and history than Fantasia. I am in Washington Auditorium with the Senior High School Concert Band under the direction of Mr. Dale Lhotka. It is December 6th and the final taping of the Ely High School Concert Band’s first Christmas CD is in progess.

As all great artists know, to create great art you must suffer. To achieve this motivating pain the High School Band all had to be to school an hour early. For some that meant rising three hours before the sun did. Some lacked the discipline and a few stayed in bed, but most found that inner power and made it on stage with their instruments in hand. Many were tired and a few yawns came and went, but when the sound engineer gave out the command “Quiet on the set” all eyes went to their visionary leader.

You could feel the focus increase as sixy-six young musicians waited for the wave of the conductor’s hands. Mr. Lhotka held the pose of a man with a mission, but he knew the time was not right. After seconds of silence came the final words – “Tape is rolling.” The hands cut the air and instantly it was filled with the music of the spheres.

I feel fortunate to have been one of the few non-musicians in the room. My modest role was to only take a few snap shots of these young musicians for the album cover. It is amazing to me to see the different things that have happened in Washington Auditorium. If there is a symbolic place that represents the heart of Ely I would have to say it is Washington Auditorium. If only the walls could talk to the various microphones placed to record the band! The auditorium is one of the oldest spaces in Ely. It was built a mere 50 years after the town was started. Within the walls of the auditorium countless plays, concerts, graduations, meetings, rehearsals, speeches and funerals have taken place. We have all laughed and cried in this room.

It is an appropriate location to record the talent of our young. With only a few hours on two Wednesdays the band had very little recording time to fill an entire compact disk with music. It is surprising how few takes it took. It does not take much to kill a take. A stray note from a sleepy trumpet can undo a perfect rendition. Sometimes the noise of the elementary children in the halls would cause a take to be aborted. It was all taken in stride by the band students. They realize they were recording in a very busy building. Minds are learning spelling words, math facts and which boy has a crush on which girl. Elementary school is not for the faint hearted, at least in Ely.

Inspite of Washington Auditorium being surrounded by classrooms and constant activity, enough silence was found to record all the Christmas songs and even a few pieces for the next project.

On December 21st at 7:00 P.M. you can hear live the very same music that will be on the “Christmas in Ely” CD by the Senior and Junior High School Bands. That is the night for this year’s Winter Concert for the High School Music Department. The CD will be officially available for purchase as a fund-raiser for the Band Boosters. It will, also, be available at several retail locations around town.

Buying the CD is a chance to own a little of the history of Washington Auditorium. It is a chance to own some memories of a high school that has always had a top notch band. Lastly, it is a piece of the here and now – Ely, Minnesota 2000 AD.

Soon this group of sixty-six students will be split up. Some, like my oldest daughter, will graduate. Soon, some of the Junior High band students will join the Senior Band. The bands will change, but always for the good.

I hope everyone will come to this month’s Winter Concert and enjoy listening to beautiful music in an auditorium that has seen and heard more beauty throughout the passing generations than anyone can remember. Thank you, Mr. Lhotka, for continuing the tradition of entertaining these historic walls of Washington Auditorium.

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