A handful of musicians hurry their way to the Episcopal band room for a 7 a.m. rehearsal. Some are chatting and sipping Starbucks lattes. Some admit to nervousness over tackling a new song, or regret their lack of time for practice. Some are humming the dozen or so tunes the band will perform in an upcoming festival. The musicians are of different age groups, though one feature stands out: there are no freshmen, no sophomores, no juniors, and no seniors among them. And none are wearing blue and gold uniforms.
This group is Knight Train, Episcopal’s one and only band comprised of faculty and staff. A Knight Train rehearsal, however, is not unlike those of the school’s other musical groups. Led by Episcopal’s incomparable Paul Taranto, the group talks through the chords and key changes of a new song, plays it awkwardly for the first time, then polishes it over the next few weeks until it shines as concert-worthy. The band, complete with a horn section, specializes in 60s R&B, playing such Motown and Stax Records classics as the Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood,” with a sampling of blue-eyed soul in Van Morrison’s “Wild Night.”
Mr. Taranto started Knight Train seven years ago, with this year’s band being the group’s fourth incarnation. Due to the amount of time it takes Mr. Taranto to write arrangements for songs and conduct rehearsals, the band comes together every other year. “I started Knight Train because I’ve always played in bands and know how fun it is, and I wanted my colleagues to have the same opportunity,” Mr. Taranto states. Having had conversations with teachers over the years about instruments they played, or bands they had joined, he knew the Episcopal faculty and staff had enough talent and experience to form a group capable of performing, so he put out a call for interested musicians, something he’s done each year Knight Train has formed. Each incarnation of the band has played R&B and soul songs, as, Mr. Taranto explains, “The instruments we play – drums, guitars, pianos, horns – lend themselves well to this type of music.” He also finds a way to include instruments typically not associated with R&B, such as the flute and violin. The music appeals to a large audience of different age groups – that is, the audience at Karnival Knight, the band’s primary venue. When asked if he would continue with Knight Train after his retirement in May, Mr. Taranto laughed and said, “Only as a trumpet player! I’ll leave the conducting to the new band director, Mr. Gambino.”
The band consists of teachers and staff members from all parts of school, one of its most attractive features for vocalist Jimmy Williams: “I love mixing it up with other division members and seeing the musical sides of our faculty.” While the early morning rehearsal time could be viewed as a negative, several members celebrate this as a means of beginning the day with fun. “I really enjoy starting one day of the week playing music,” states flutist Katie Sutcliffe, while pianist Andrea Bodron adds, “I like starting my morning with the ‘grooving’ vibes of Earth, Wind, and Fire!” Some members have recently played in other bands – drummer Claney Duplechin in the Cajun band Mamou, vocalist Matt Holt in the band Louisiana Saturday Night, and vocalist Rebecca Kuhn in an American/Korean pop/rock band. For others, such as pianist Geoff Birky, who last played in an orchestra pit band sixteen years ago, Knight Train offered an opportunity to revive their musical selves.
Listening to Knight Train perform is one more reason for everyone in the Episcopal community to attend Karnival Knight on March 16th from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Students especially can witness their teachers, coaches, and chaplain in a new and melodious light: tickling keyboards, strumming electric guitars, pounding the drum set, blowing horns, and belting out soulful tunes. As the Temptations might say, “Get ready, get ready, ’cause here Knight Train comes!”
Dr. Alan Newton
Dr. Alan Newton hails from Alabama and received degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, and University of Kansas. At Episcopal, he has taught eighth grade World Geography and History of Religion in addition to his new roles as English teacher, Writing Center Director, and College Block Coordinator. Dr. Newton has taught English and Social Studies classes and served as a college admissions consultant for more than twenty years, predominantly at college preparatory schools in the United States and South Korea. He is also a published poet and playwright whose play, Whiteout (2001), won a national Kennedy Center award. Outside of school, he enjoys theater, world travel, and playing drums. He is married to Dr. Rebecca Kuhn.