VINALHAVEN, Maine — Stephanie Decker, a first-year French horn player in the University of Maine Symphonic Band, is used to the sight of Maine’s largest mountain rising from the surrounding forests — she’s from Millinocket, after all.
But taking a boat ride on the ocean was something the exuberant student had never done before Friday, when she and 44 of her bandmates boarded the ferry to go to Vinalhaven, where they would put on two concerts for the island community and perhaps inspire students to get involved with music.
“I’m so excited,” she said while waiting in the sparkling sunshine at the Rockland ferry terminal. “I’d really like to see a whale or a puffin; a shark or a porpoise or a seal. I’ve never been to an island, except for Mount Desert Island, and I don’t know if that counts.”
It was also the first time that one of the university’s top performance ensembles has ever gone to an outer island to hold a concert, according to conductor Christopher White.
“So many of our kids have never done anything like this,” he said, well-bundled up against the stiff sea breeze. “Our spring tour is part of our community service. Touring does help with recruiting. It does help with visibility. And it’s just good community relationships.”
In a warm corner inside the boat, trumpet player and band manager Chris Plaisted of Jonesboro was practicing conducting the New Mexico March. He moved his baton decisively while looking at the sheet music in silence, the thrum of the engines keeping a steady backbeat.
“As far as we know, we are the first UMaine ensemble to be on the island, so it’s really historic,” he said.
By the time the ferry pulled into Vinalhaven Harbor, students were taking photographs with the rugged granite shores in the background. Decker was still searching for sea life.
“A duck!” she called out.
Once at the school, the University of Maine Symphonic Band met the Vinalhaven School band, which was set to play a couple of songs with the college musicians that night. On Friday, five high school musicians from the school band were there to avidly watch the college ensemble tune up for an all-school concert. With fewer than 200 students from prekindergarten to 12th grade, and only about 50 in the high school, it can be hard to field a group, they said. The small group has been working hard to get ready for the visiting musicians.
“We’ve been practicing pretty intensely,” said 17-year-old Adam Young, who plays guitar and bass.
Jensen Bruns, 15, who plays drums, agreed.
“So intensely, that yesterday I managed to play ‘Moondance’ well, even though my foot was caught in the hi-hat,” he said.
The small school band consists of those instruments, clarinet and saxophone, the high school musicians said, adding that they couldn’t wait to hear the college students play. Neither could Michelle Wiley, the music teacher and band director who helped get the UMaine band to Vinalhaven.
“This is huge,” she said. “The island is used to having classical and professionally trained musicians come out — but nothing this large. It’s just too hard [logistically]. We’ve always had concerts on the mainland and bused our kids, but Chris said no. ‘My students need to come out there.’ It means a lot.”
She said that although the island has a strong musical heritage, there are other activities that take up students’ time.
“Kids now can fish early. Their whole summers are taken up,” she said. “And sports. There’s a lot of conflicts — everybody’s trying to do everything. There’s a huge struggle out here. So having the UMaine band come and play, hopefully is really going to spark that sense of wow.”
When the UMaine band members took the stage at Smith Hokanson Memorial Hall and practiced the opening number, the sound from the instruments soared to fill all the space in the room.
“It’s so beautiful,” said MaKenzie Young, 14, who plays tenor saxophone and guitar with the Viking Band. “It makes me want to cry.”
The UMaine band members played a bright, happy trumpet concerto by Joseph Haydn, a propulsive march and much more.
“I think this is great,” Adam Young said. “It’s kind of intimidating — at the same time, it’s really something else. It’s great to have them out here. Hopefully, it inspires other kids to get involved in the music program.