The musical warmup began a little late, considering how everyone on stage inside East Bakersfield High's auditorium Monday morning had already performed several pieces. But because no one in the audience had played a note, the clarinetist offered some tips from, of all disciplines, yoga.
The idea, said Tracy Paddock, a master sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps, was to let out a fundamental sound — a low D note, as it happened — so that everyone could hear their voice.
"We're not going to judge, we're just going to play," added Gunnery Sgt. Ellen Dooley, the flutist on stage with Paddock. "Feel your voice."
Everyone stood up, with some in the audience taking to the aisles to make room for their instruments. Then, after a short countdown, there arose a sound that resonated throughout the great hall, lasting for perhaps 20 seconds.
"That was pretty good for 18 different high schools trying to get together playing the same note," Paddock said.
It was, but it got better as some of the best music students from high schools across Kern County took brief but inspiring lessons from one of the top musical organizations in all the country.
The U.S. Marine Band, already in Bakersfield for a sold-out performance Sunday night at the Mechanics Bank Convention Center, imparted bits of wisdom Monday along with performance-boosting tips to a receptive audience of more than 100 students.
"It's a huge thing," said Patriots of Kern President Dick Taylor, who had helped organize the band's visit, as he had the last time the band had come to Kern, in 2009.
The Marine Band is the nation's oldest organization of professional musicians, having been established by an act of Congress in 1798. Its mission is to provide musical support for the U.S. Marines Corps, but more than that, to serve as on-call musicians for the White House.
After eight members of the band played musical pieces as a kind of introduction Monday, the event divided into three breakout sessions focused on different instruments.
Paddock and Dooley, joined by bassoonist Chris McFarlane, a master gunnery sergeant, worked on breathing techniques that, in their own way, were about more than breathing, more than music.
"The way they played, it was kind of like inspiring," East Bakersfield High senior Vannessa Villanueva, a flutist, said afterward. "It made me want to improve myself."
After the group warmup, Dooley, a woman with impeccable posture and an easy, conversational tone, took several dozen students through another yoga-like exercise, this one about breath control.
She asked audience members to visualize blowing through a straw while pressing on an imaginary balloon located below their rib cage.
The result was a sustained sound — a low E this time. She then had them practice taking in short spurts of air and turning it into long notes.
Next came McFarlane. He advised the student musicians to consider the ample potential of a new tube of toothpaste and apply that to their music.
"Take in more air than you need and your sound will be better," he said.
Musical control was central to his message, but so was humility. On a reed instrument like the bassoon, he said, it can be very challenging to achieve correct pitch. Even he, as a professional musician, has to practice with a tuner app on his smartphone, he said.
"You have to be patient and humble," he said. "But do it and you will get better."
Afterward, tenor sax player Nathan Delgado, a Shafter High freshman, said he felt like he had learned how to maintain a solid tone, along with new ways to move air through his instrument.
The Marine Band had impressed him, he said. The players were nice people, and talented to boot, with years of experience.
"It definitely inspires me to play with a better tone on my instrument," he said.
Flutist Elexia Ramirez, a senior at East Bakersfield High, called the whole experience "wonderful."
Surprised at how well the Marine Band played, she said she left the event with a new plan: to improve her sound.
"I've never heard anything like this before," she said.