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WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

Salsa Band shines light on Latin American culture through music

Deepa Gautam
All 15 members of the new Salsa Band, along with Rodriguez and Engdahl, smile for the camera, instruments in hand, after a successful first meeting.

Within thirty minutes of WA’s first ever Salsa Band meeting, trumpets are playing, drumsticks are moving, and even cow bells are ringing. A catchy, upbeat rhythm echoes throughout the band room and nearly 15 students tap their feet as they read the music on their stands. While it may not be perfect salsa, it is definitely a perfect start. And that’s all juniors Lara Rodriguez and Daniel Engdahl, the club founders, had hoped for.

Currently a pilot club led by manager Rodriguez and assistant manager Engdahl, and advised by band director Adam Shekleton, Salsa Band is the newest addition to WA’s musical sphere. It aims to share, embrace, and ultimately create Latin American music with WA students of all backgrounds. Starting November 20th, the club will meet every Monday from 2:00-3:00 p.m in the band room.

“In band, we definitely do a lot of stuff with different cultures but not many with as big of a focus on Latin American rhythms specifically,” Rodriguez, said. “A lot of people don’t even know what salsa music is, so the main goal of Salsa Band is just to learn and share a bit more about Latin American music and my culture.”

Rodriguez, who is Argentinian, felt compelled to bring this club to WA after learning of Acton-Boxborough High School’s own variation of a Salsa Band: “orquestra.” Starting about three years ago, Acton-Boxborough orquestra similarly performs Latin American music, and is planning to hold rehearsals on Sundays later in the year, which WA Salsa Band is welcome to join. In addition, according to Rodriguez, the two bands will be collaborating on the same pieces throughout the year.

“We had an alum who really enjoyed surrounding himself with music, and he was the one who created orquestra a few years back,” Hamsika Veda, an Acton-Boxborough student and orchestra member, said. “It’s really been about people who want to explore new musical opportunities in a unique way. Although we haven’t started yet this year, we had set rehearsal times and certain gigs we prepped for throughout the year [last year].”

After going through the process of officially starting the club at WA, which involved gaining approval from Shekleton and Dean Betsy Murphy, Rodriguez approached her bandmates with the prospect of starting Salsa Band. Among them was Engdahl, who is the current jazz band manager, and section leader of both the marching and concert band at WA.

“When Lara asked me, I joined because I wanted to help this club thrive as much as possible,” Engdahl said. “I’ve heard salsa music played before and learned the basics of it over the summer, and it just sounds really fun and danceable. It’s also just another opportunity to play new music, collaborate with new people, and learn about other people’s culture.”

Currently, Engdahl helps with the more musical aspects of the club, such as approving sheet music and coordinating songs for various instruments. For instance, during the first meeting, club members learned the basics of salsa music and tested the waters by learning an intermediate salsa piece, titled “El Preso.”

The following photos are a glimpse into Salsa Band’s first meeting:

“I joined because I wanted to play some instrumental music with other people, which I don’t get to do often,” Dalia Shvartsman said.  “I also wanted to improve my skills on the bass and learn more about Latin American music.”

Contrary to the name of the band, their repertoire will not only feature salsa songs, but rather a variety of Latin American styles.  In fact, the pair plans to expand the club, implementing a “style of the week” approach to meetings, teaching members about different styles beyond salsa.

What often differentiates Latin American music from other styles often played at WA is the use of the clave (pronounced clah-vay). A clave is a repeating rhythmic pattern that is especially prominent in music styles such as salsa, rumba, mambo, conga, and Afro-Cuban jazz, while claves are two wooden sticks used to produce the different 2-3 or 3-2 rhythms. The band will also feature multiple other instruments such as the trumpet, clarinet, piano, and the maracas, allowing for students with all levels of music experience to get involved.

“A lot of different people are super interested, even people who don’t play any instruments are coming to the first meeting to see what’s going on and everything,” Rodriguez said. “So I’m really excited about the potential for this club. And I hope we’ll see more people find some interest in music through it.

The club is also playing an instrumental role in a larger movement within WA Band, according to Shekleton. This involves incorporating more diverse pieces of music onto WA’s various ensembles.

“The standard or traditional literature in concert band is very narrow: white, cisgender men,” Shekleton said. “It’s very important to me that we step outside this norm at WA and play music that is representative of our students and who they are as individuals.”

Over the past few years, for example, Shekleton has pushed to see more music composed by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community performed at WA, in an effort to raise historically underrepresented voices. With the added layer of Salsa Band, Shekleton hopes to see pieces of Latin American music eventually incorporated into performances by other ensembles, such as Pep Band and Marching Band.

“The music in Salsa Band is much more broad-scoped than other styles of music we play in the umbrella that is WA Bands,” Shekleton said. “The hope is that there will be some translation from this to other ensembles. For example, if we find something we really enjoy playing together, that chart would then hopefully make its way into the lineup for [music played during] football games and winter sports. A limitation, though, is that these pieces are not written for traditional ‘concert band’ instrumentation.”

Looking ahead, Rodriguez and Engdahl aim to continue sharing Latin American culture and simply develop a new community of diverse bandmates. As the newly formed band begins to gain experience, the pair hopes to strengthen the club’s presence at WA, potentially performing in collaboration with local non-profits or at larger WA community events, such as the spring concert, or foreign awards language night.

“A big thing Salsa Bands is doing is bringing a new culture to llight. It is showing students what Latin American music is like and in doing so, bringing people together,” Rodriguez said. “I think it is a really cool opportunity to expand my musical knowledge, to share a little bit of my culture with other people, and hopefully create a band that will last a while at Westford Academy.”

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About the Contributor
Deepa Gautam, Editor-in-Chief
Hi! My name is Deepa and I am a junior Editor in Chief for the Ghostwriter! This is my third year on the paper and I joined because I love to read, write, and try new things. In my free time, I love watching movies, listening to music, trying new foods, and spending time with my family! :)

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