Swan Song

retiring music teacher commissions final concert piece from former student

Raquel Dorf

Retiring Northstar Middle School band director Laurie Francis (right) and former student Kim Osberg. Francis commissioned Osberg to compose music for the director’s final concert, capping off her 21-year career.
Retiring Northstar Middle School band director Laurie Francis (right) and former student Kim Osberg. Francis commissioned Osberg to compose music for the director’s final concert, capping off her 21-year career.

The Northstar Middle School band is busy tuning instruments, memorizing sheet music, and practicing parts for their Annual Spring Concert. While the eighth graders are no strangers to the stage, this concert is special because it marks the retirement of their long-time band director, Laurie Francis.

Francis has been teaching at Northstar for the past 21 years, and for her final concert, she commissioned one of her former students – up-and-coming composer Kim Osberg – to write an original piece for the band. “I thought it would be neat to do something I had never done before and commission a work to be created just for us,” Francis said.

“I really wanted to pay tribute to Mrs. Francis and the legacy that she builds every year with these students.” – Kim Osberg on her former teacher Laurie Francis

The piece Osberg wrote is cleverly entitled “Band Together” because the structure of the music follows the journey that bands take together. Just over five minutes long, the piece incorporates the sound of air, blowing, fingers moving on keys, followed by chaos and confusion, then playfulness, joy, fear, and sadness as their time together ends.

“Her piece uses great words throughout it to help my band students relate to what happens in their journey through band or maybe even life,” Francis said.

Osberg said her inspiration for the piece came from Francis herself. “In writing the work,” said Osberg, “I really wanted to pay tribute to Mrs. Francis and the legacy that she builds every year with these students. Through music, she brings together students who come from a lot of different backgrounds and experiences, and is able to get them to – not just play together – but truly collaborate.”

The students have been rigorously working on “Band Together” since January, and while the piece has come together seamlessly, it has not been without its challenges.

The piece requires that the students learn a different type of music notation known as “aleatory,” where the conductor cues in sections, rather than conducts beats. This means that the students must learn to listen and respond to each other without the help of a conductor. Kim visited Northstar for a week to explain and teach the piece to the students.

“To say it pushes us is an understatement,” Francis joked. “But throughout all of the frustrations, and changing parts, we keep talking about how if you want to grow in life you have to get out of your comfort zone.”

Francis remarked how incredible it is for kids to come together and learn how to be musicians, “but more than that, learn the process of starting with nothing and then the end result creating something that is totally theirs, unique and will never be the same again.”

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