The Anoka Middle School for the Arts band practiced hard on the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" for an arts education benefit recording.
At first, the din in the band room sounded like the discordant end to the Beatles' "A Day in the Life."
But the 115 seventh- and eighth-graders at Anoka Middle School for the Arts were raring to play a special arrangement of "A Hard Day's Night." It was their recording debut, which will be featured on the Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3, scheduled for release at the end of the year.
The project, administered by the nonprofit Owatonna-based Vega Productions, Inc., records local musicians' interpretations of classic Beatles songs; the compilation is sold to raise money for arts education in Minnesota. Only one school is chosen to record each year.
Vol. 2 includes Minneapolis' Edison High School band playing "I Want to Hold Your Hand." In 2009, Susan B. Anthony Middle School's concert band recorded "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Anoka Middle School for the Arts, which received $2,000 from the project this year to re-condition instruments for students, learned in January that it had been tapped. The next weeks were a flurry of choosing a song, then seeking a band arrangement. Finding none, band director Sabrina Olson commissioned a friend, Anoka High School orchestra director Michael Halstenson, to write a new arrangement of the classic song.
Then it was practice, practice, practice.
Each student had a final run-through with Olson. Not all of them made the cut. In fact, one student was sent back to his sixth-hour class Friday as his classmates filed into the overcrowded room.
Emily Neumann, an eighth-grader, was ready for her part: cowbell. She admitted she'd never heard the song before the class chose it, to the horror of her friend Diana Williams, who already carried the mallets for her part on the vibes.
"It'll be a lot of work," Emily said, "but it will be cool in the end to be on a CD."
Robert Licari, a trombonist, wore a black Beatles shirt for the occasion. He said he's really into music and is a Beatles fan, after listening with his older sister and his dad.
"It's going to be pretty awesome," he said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to record."
The recording crew, from St. Paul's McNally Smith College of Music, arranged the musicians by volume, with the woodwinds on the left of a large "U" and the brass on the right. Percussion ranged at the back. Microphones stood among folding chairs and music stands. The floor was a tripping trap of crisscrossing cables.
Finally, it was time to play.
Olson raised her baton, and the room was a swirl of trumpets, trombones, flutes, clarinets, marimbas, vibes and, of course, the cowbell. In the anteroom, techs monitored the sound levels on a computer screen; others air-drummed and boogied. As the notes faded from the room, Olson turned and exclaimed, "Whew! Aren't they good?"
A percussionist let off steam with a drumroll. There was a sound check, then another round. And another. A student's cough marred the end of another round, followed by the groans of her bandmates. After another take, a trumpeter held the last note just a beat too long. Olson waved them down.
"We would like to do a couple more takes," she told them. "That means we will spill a little into seventh hour."
The class cheered. "I love my life!" one boy crowed.
At four minutes before the end of the period, Olson hustled them into another round before the bell rang. It did, just a beat after the song ended, to the laughter of the class. They played it again, with no mishaps, then again. After seven takes, the techs decided it was a wrap.
The musicians stowed their instruments and filed off to their final class. Through the whole process, Olson said, the students learned about arrangement, recording, the professional side of their art and how it might be used outside of the band room.
"I love the fact that this one little project encompassed so many areas of the arts," she said. "As an arts school, it's a wonderful opportunity for the kids to experience their art form from a different standpoint. ... It kind of opened up their eyes."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409