2009-12-17 / News

Community band an ‘instrument of growth’ for island musician

By Stacy Jones

Bethany Clarke, a senior at URI majoring in music history and music education, is director of the Jamestown Community Band. She began her musical journey years ago as an elementary student with the Jamestown School band. Photo courtesy of the Clarke family Bethany Clarke, a senior at URI majoring in music history and music education, is director of the Jamestown Community Band. She began her musical journey years ago as an elementary student with the Jamestown School band. Photo courtesy of the Clarke family Sometimes, clarity strikes at the most unexpected moments. Such was the case for Bethany Clarke, the 21-year-old director of the Jamestown Community Band.

Clarke’s moment happened the day she auditioned for drum major of the marching band at the University of Rhode Island, where she is a senior pursuing a double major in music history and music education. Her audition fell on the same day as her grandfather’s funeral. She went to the audition and got a call later in the day from the band director, telling her that she would be the new drum major.

“With all that was going on, I still succeeded,” Clarke said. “It proved – somehow – that I am doing what I should be doing. I was proud of myself, and being a perfectionist that doesn’t happen very much. It was a huge moment for me.”

Clarke’s musical journey began when she was just about in sixth grade. But it wasn’t until that moment at URI that she felt that music was the right path for her, she said.

Her appointment as director of the JCB in late spring was unexpected, Clarke said. She was initially planning to work on only one piece with the band and when she was asked to lead the group, she said, she was “a little nervous.”

From the start, she felt like all eyes were on her – and she was right. But she was off base about the meaning of those many stares, she said.

“I used to get intimidated,” she said. “But I realized they were watching me not to bring me down, but to watch me grow.”

Clarke said she welcomes the band members’ critiques of her performance.

“They are instrumental in my growth,” she said – no pun intended, she added. “I want to make sure I meet their expectations. It’s not about me; it’s about them. They’ve done so much with me.”

During her young career, Clarke has always gone above and beyond what is necessary to succeed, she said. She credits this drive to support from her parents, both of whom are musically inclined, as well as to the Jamestown community. Key to her growth, she said, was Karyn Kauffman, a teacher in the Jamestown school music program and current band director for the Lawn Avenue School.

“She has always supported not just me, but all of her students,” Clarke said. “She’s an enormous talent and enjoys what she’s doing. She brought that out in me in the sixth grade.”

Clarke, who will graduate from URI this summer, plans to continue her studies in graduate school. Although she is a voice major and plays the piano, flute and oboe, her career concentration will be on conducting, which she describes as “a very competitive field.”

Competitive or not, however, conducting is where Clarke wants to be, she said.

The experience is “amazing,” she said. “No matter what mood I’m in, it just takes over me. There is a difference between listening and playing music. Directors are making music.”

Admittedly, Clarke has a lot on her plate, but the situation is typical of her approach to life and her career.

“I guess I have a certain amount of perseverance,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had this opportunity if I hadn’t pursued it. I have a lot to do, but I love it.”

Clarke’s assessment of her time at the JCB and her own skill level is also typical of her selfdescribed “perfectionist” tendencies.

“My growth as a conductor has been exponential,” she said. “But I still consider myself an amateur. I’m nowhere near where I want to be.”

Clarke’s passion will soon take her away from the JCB and Rhode Island as she explores graduate school opportunities at George Mason University, Arizona State University, Ithaca College, the University of Connecticut and the University of Michigan. The move, she said, will be bittersweet.

“There aren’t that many opportunities in Rhode Island, and I’d like to experience other places,” she said. “I look forward to moving on, but I started out with the JCB. They have a special place in my heart.”

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