Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thoughts on the film: Thunder Soul

I was in band in high school. I played the flute because that is the cheapest instrument available at the flea market where my parents picked up my nickel Bundy beginner flute. At that time of my life they were desperately searching for a hobby I could love. I got in fights at gymnastics and I didn't give a shit about chasing after a soccer ball and the choreography in dance class served as too great a challenge for my uncoordinated little body, but the flute I liked.

Unlike a lot of girls who picked the flute up and put it right back down after a month or two, I loved it. I played it all through elementary, middle, and high school, and only quit after a year in college made me realize that I would never be a professional musician because I'm just not that good at reading music. That, and writing loved me better.

Once in high school our band played as part of a group of 100 high school bands that represented the state of North Carolina at an anniversary type deal. After hours of marching in our wool uniforms through the summer heat, carrying our instruments big and small, we were told that we couldn't get into the event because President Clinton decided to show up at the last minute and there wasn't time to get every student through the metal detector.

As we stood outside the stadium lamenting our fate, the black high school band standing near us started to play. They played something we were never allowed to play. It was funky. They danced with their instruments and they grooved, and we just sat there, stiff as our director would not allow us to use our instruments to protest this great injustice.

Outside of marching band, I was also a member of the flute ensemble, a group of 4-6 girls who played boring ass Mozart quartets and Canon in D and lots of proper drudgery. I wanted more than anything to join the jazz band, but flutes were not allowed because they just aren't as cool as horns, evidently.

So when I watched the documentary film Thunder Soul Saturday night, it resonated in a big way.

Thunder Soul is the story of the Kashmere Stage Band, an all-black high school band who won every contest there was to be had in the '70s, and even recorded and album or two. In the film the members of the band get together 30 years later to perform a concert for their dying old band director and father figure "Prof". That band I mentioned a minute ago, the black band that funked out in the parking lot of the stadium we weren't allowed into? Yeah they didn't know it, but they owed that groove to the Kashmere Stage Band.

This film was one of the better documentaries I've seen in a long time. It was surprisingly funny, for one thing. It was poignant and beautiful and fun, and immediately made me run out and buy the band's album to give to someone I know who absolutely loves funk.

The film even managed to make me get out my old flute - not the nickel piece of crap Bundy this time, but the silver Gemeinhardt I saved up for in ninth grade - and play it. And just like the members of the band, who had not picked up their instruments for 30 years, I sucked big time. But just like the members of the band, I will practice until I remember how to play as beautifully as I ever did.

In the film Prof says "So let me get this straight. They were taught so well that thirty years later they still know how to play?" Yep. That's some good teaching right there, and some good musicians.

This man changed their lives by teaching them to love music, and this documentary follows that love of both the man and the sound, and does an amazing job of showing us that love. As soon as it gets distribution, I highly recommend you pick it up.


  1. My high school Jazz Band had flutes. They are totally a Jethro Tull-ish way, I s'pose.

    Actually, our Jazz Band accepted any instrument...and person...explaining how I managed to be in Jazz Band.

    Nonetheless, the band did quite well in the conferences/competitions.

    RLHS Jazz Band: "Get up early, stay up late, swing like demons"

  2. That sounds pretty awesome. My band director was a douche, so even though lots of jazz bands have flutes, he didn't see the point.

    Kashmere Stage Band had an awesome flute player.

  3. It was UNC's bicentennial and as I recall Clinton didn't show up at the last minute, he was on the schedule to be there. It was just that it didn't seem to occur to the Secret Service beforehand that 100 marching bands = security nightmare.

    And yeah, Jenner definitely had an ironically rigid idea of what it meant to be a jazz band, where what you played was more important than how you played.

  4. Yeah I simplified the story for easier telling. Clinton was thinking about coming, but didn't decide to show until like hours before the show.

    And hey who are you? Hit me up with an email.

    I fucking hated being in flute ensemble.


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