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Clan of band - Trombone players stuck together throughout school

By Mary L. Grady

For a trio of trombone players of the Islander Class of 2005 -- Brenton Roberts, Noah Younger and Chris Taylor -- the last four years have flown by.

Beginning in middle school, the three have played trombone together. They have played in the Mercer Island High School audition-only jazz band and wind ensemble for an unprecedented all four years of high school.

There is little amazement or regret about their coming graduation. They know each other very well, they admit. They probably have spent more waking time with each other than with their own families. But it is really not a big deal.

Through the changes and stresses of high school, the music and their bandmates have been a constant.

They play together for at least two hours a day. They have been through braces, girls and dreaded Spanish classes. Each began trombone in grade school. And any competitiveness between them fell by the wayside long ago.

Taylor came from Arizona in the seventh grade.

``I didn't like it that he came in and was better than any of the rest of us,'' said Younger.

Younger and Taylor have gone back and forth between first and second chairs. Roberts, who has switched to a bass trombone, takes private lessons as does Younger. All of them admit to not practicing enough. Taylor admits practicing the least, and yet he is the best of the three, the two others say without malice.

In the brass section, there are politics, deal-making and teasing. And the trombone players get into their share of trouble.

``There is always too much talking -- Noah always starts, but then Chris gets in trouble,'' explained Roberts.

Outside band, the three have other activities and friends, but in the band room they slip into their roles with ease; their relationship somewhere between siblings and shipmates. They know how much they can tease each other and who plays what role.

Each senior is well over six feet tall. Roberts has the biggest feet (size 13). Younger has worn the same brand of shoes every year, Taylor noted. In his own defense, Younger points out they are a different color every year. The brand of the shoe is ``Simple.'' Taylor shakes his head in mock disgust, ``Who has ever heard of that?''

They know each others quirks and foibles. Roberts said that Younger needs to play louder. Taylor agrees. Younger smirks. He has heard it all many times before.

For the young men, the notion of time passing isn't there. There has simply been too much to do. With the commitment to band and other activities, getting homework done and enough sleep has been challenging.

One New Year's Eve, Taylor who also plays football and lacrosse, made a resolution to go to bed no later than midnight. He has stuck to that for the most part ever since, he said.

The band has a rich folklore. There are many stories not repeatable, they said of their times together. Endless rides on the bus across the state, five-hour card games, lunches at the Bellevue Red Robin, where it was always Younger's birthday. There is acceptance that Younger wears a ``lucky'' maroon cummerbund for dress performances.

``It is sort of flaming,'' he admits.

Traditions includes the wearing of yarmulkes brought by Younger who is Jewish, at the annual Christmas program at Crossroads Mall, Roberts explained. The base of a regular bathroom plunger is the mute of choice for trombone players including Roberts. All players must sign the plunger that is to be passed on as a treasured heirloom, they explained. One of Younger's trombones has been through the high school music program three times.

In middle school, they remember taking apart their trombones and using the slides to shoot paper clips and thumbtacks into the ceiling. The activity required a certain amount of stealth and organization. A spotter had to monitor Mr. Ferguson and give the signal.

But for all of the fun, the three are articulate, serious and obviously disciplined about their activities and schoolwork. Each are headed off in a different direction after graduation. Roberts will attend the UW for engineering and math, Younger to the University of Chicago, where he plans to study biology. Taylor has a lacrosse scholarship to Georgetown University. Younger and Roberts hope to continue their music. Taylor isn't sure.

There have been the good times and the bad times. They have missed some key events such as Tolo when on the road with the band. But the jazz and wind ensembles have won awards and played with international trumpet star, Alan Vizzutti. With Taylor Nelp in the Senior T-Bone Quartet, they took first place in a competition for solo and ensemble jazz groups in February.

The death of fellow bandmate Ben Shamis was like a death in the family. ``As soon as I heard, I went to the band room,'' Younger said. Roberts did too.

``We have all helped each other get through stuff,'' Roberts said.

None of the three will admit to having girlfriends, but each had a date to the Prom last weekend -- each with a fellow senior they have known for many years

The trio seems to think that parents worry too much about the students at the high school. We're all right, they said.

They look forward to what they believe will be somewhat of a less stressful life.

``No more seven periods a day,'' said Taylor.

``Not having to take classes I don't want,'' said Roberts.

``No more busywork,'' Younger chimed in.

Yet, on a day last week, each was rushing to some other activity after school, Younger had already ridden his bike over to Seattle and back. Taylor had yet to order a tux for the Prom. Roberts had a private lesson.

The last time they will play together will be a the senior assembly. They will play one of their favorite songs, a Brazilian song with an unpronounceable name, that starts out with a set of trombone solos.

How do they feel about leaving high school and the Island?

``I have learned to accept it,'' Roberts said. ``We are headed into another phase of our lives.''

Younger is sad to leave. Taylor said he's ready.

``It is another cycle,'' Roberts added. ``I kind of like that it will be a clean sweep.''

And what have they learned? To take responsibility, deal with time pressures and to be self-sufficient, they said.

And to rely on each other.

``Being in the band is like a clan,'' Taylor remarked.

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