CAMBRIDGE – It all happened so fast.
On the morning of Oct. 11, Dorchester school officials learned that producers from ABC’s television program “Good Morning America” wanted to feature Maple Elementary School’s marching band on their show. The Lions had made a splash in the local news media after appearing at school events and impressing crowds with their drum line and other musicians, and GMA staff in New York heard about it.
Much of the band’s success stems from the efforts of their director, Ray Washington, who took over leadership of the group last year.
It’s back to where he started for Mr. Washington, who was in Maple’s band as a boy. He took that experience with him through Mace’s Lane Middle and Cambridge-South Dorchester High, and then performed in Morgan State University’s marching band.
He returned to Maple two years ago as a substitute and began forming bonds with the children. When the chance arose to lead the band, he jumped at it.
On “Good Morning America,” Mr. Washington recognized how important the group is to the young musicians, saying, “Some of them have some really rough home lives, and this is their outlet. This is what they look forward to. I’m not just a band teacher. I’m a counselor, a father, a friend. It takes so much more to get through to them. The whole school system is so supportive of it.”
Adults have done quite a bit of talking about the progress and enthusiasm they see among the students. But it’s doubtful anyone has described it better than one of the musicians, Marquee Jones, who spoke about Mr. Washington after the broadcast, saying, “He brightened kids’ hearts. He told kids if you keep trying, you’ll get it right.”
It took some quick thinking and working to make it all happen last week. After school officials agreed that the band could perform, arrangements had to be made: A technician from the show took a look around the school and decided an outdoor performance would be best; parents were notified; the custodial staff spruced up the venue, even mowing grass in the early-morning dark; administrators were on the scene at 4:30 a.m. to help prepare; teachers had all students off buses, into homerooms and outside in 15 minutes; the band was in uniform and rehearsing by 7:30 a.m.; parents and grandparents were there with their cellphone cameras; and at 8:30 a.m., the TV producer, cameraman and soundman were ready and waiting for word from New York.
And everyone stood waiting, quietly, watching the minutes tick by.
Then from the production van’s open doors, came Robin Givens’ voice, saying a band in Maryland was doing great things. The producer gave the signal, and Mr. Washington and Drum Major Hallmark Pinanzu were on the air.
Maple Elementary's performance followed, with a driving beat, waving flags and precision from all the intensely focused musicians. Then when it was over, and the tension relieved, the students were back to being young children, celebrating with their parents. One of them, Christian Thomas, summed it up, saying, “It’s so fun being in band.”