Alumnus Sends Graduates off with Traditional Tune

Band director shares positivity during pandemic.

As of early June, Fergus Falls High School band director Scott Kummrow’s “Pomp and Circumstance” video tribute for the school’s 2020 graduates has more than 42K views.

To honor the graduates who not only had their school year cut short but would miss the traditional graduation ceremony, the 2003 Concordia graduate formed his own one-man band and the result is a video that has captured the region’s attention.

But how did the whole idea for the video come about? Well, there’s a bit of a back story.

There was a concert scheduled for the last day teachers saw students. At first they thought they’d have to limit concert attendees, but the next day they realized they couldn’t have any attendees. Then, on the third day, they figured out they couldn’t even have kids in the same room together so they decided to record the concert.

Kummrow’s students did a piece called “Grace Before Sleep,” a song that is meaningful to both Kummrow and his students.

“It’s been a powerful piece to play and share together,” he said. “It’s got a Christian background, but I’ve always taken a different look at it because the first verse is ‘How can our minds and bodies be grateful enough in this precious room.’ I’ve always talked about how I feel about our band room so for us to have our last moment together playing that piece in that room was unique and special in its own way.”

Kummrow asked the kids to write messages of hope and inspiration to the community because he wanted to start from a positive place in the face of so much uncertainty, and he thought that by trying to be positive and looking for the silver lining it could have a big impact.

“The kids came out with these amazing quotes,” Kummrow said. “I gave them a marker and a piece of paper and said to start writing. I gave them three minutes to do that and the kids came up with some awesome stuff.”

He took photos of the quotes and edited them into the video. It made quite an impact on the community and Kummrow received many comments, messages, and emails about “Grace Before Sleep” from people thankful for its message.

The next two weeks, while teachers worked at the school preparing for distance learning, the music teachers (including a couple more Cobbers) relieved a little stress by gathering to make a little music together.

“The choir director who had just this stupid amount of energy on the first day said ‘grab an instrument – it’s St. Patrick’s Day and we’re gonna go play something,’” Kummrow said. “I didn’t really want to because I wasn’t in a good place, but playing this goofy piece ended up being the thing I needed. I was then able to approach my work with a little different mentality.”

Though he said the videos aren’t great music – they’re silly, goofy pieces – they were also appreciated by the community. The teachers received even more positive messages about the “Staff Infection” videos, so they did them every day. They made a couple that were more serious, like one for their support staff and “Sweet Caroline” that got some of the community involved.

“It was helpful for us to have that little time together, while obeying all the social distancing rules, doing something for ourselves and something positive for the community,” Kummrow said.

Kummrow, a Fergus Falls native, went to this high school (in a different building) and his band teacher was a Cobber who helped him cement both his career path and his decision to go to Concordia. He also played in a punk band with a friend who now lives in the Twin Cities. They just threw together a video from a distance that gave Kummrow a little more experience with video editing.

Everyone at the school was thinking outside the box for some type of graduation ceremony, an effort to cling to a hint of normalcy. So Kummrow set up his light, a backdrop, and his iPad and started recording “Pomp and Circumstance.” The most important thing he learned right away was to record both from his iPad and computer at the same time. That way he could edit a note or two from the computer without re-recording the whole song when he made a mistake.

When asked about playing all those instruments, Kummrow said Concordia professor of oboe Dr. Stephanie Carlson busted him on his one little secret – due to the oboe needing a reed he didn’t want to take the time to replace, he air-played the oboe!

“One of the things that I try to talk about with this video that’s gotten some recognition is that it’s a good representation of what everybody I know is doing in their jobs,” Kummrow said. “We’re going to look back and be like, – wow it’s so amazing we got through that with so much positivity.”

When his first ideas about how to approach distance learning didn’t seem to be working, he went back to the drawing board. One of the things he decided to do was invite Concordia band director Dr. Peter Haberman to a Zoom session. Ten different professional musicians and educators ended up talking to his students in Zoom sessions, something he’d only done about twice a year during an average school year. That’s one thing he plans on continuing.

“It was awesome that people were willing to give their time and I’m totally taking that with me when we go back to the classroom,” he said.

Even though he’d still be teaching through distance learning, Kummrow knew he’d have extra time on his hands. The band had upcoming trips scheduled to Memphis, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., along with concerts, contests, and pep band events. And all of a sudden all that was gone. He’s grateful for the additional family time not usually possible with his time-consuming job, but he also decided to use some free time to learn to play the bassoon better. He calls it the “Bassoon Adventure.” He spent about four weeks practicing and recording his practice sessions to send to his students.

“I was terrible at first,” he said. “I didn’t know fingerings and could barely play a note. The kids got a big kick out of the ‘Bassoon Adventure.’”

Between the distance learning and creative graduation events, he’s happy that so many just took the ball and ran with it. 

“I love the notion that the video represents what everyone’s doing and wish everyone could have the kind of experience I have had since I put the video up,” Kummrow said. “There are so many positive emails and messages that have come to me that it’s been so good for me.”

“Maybe we should all be showing that kind of appreciation for each other,” he added.

 

Kummrow’s story was featured on KSTP, MPR, and InForum, among others.