When it comes to instilling a love of performing in students, Lori MacRae plays second fiddle to no one.
The Port Washington-Saukville School District’s summer marching band, which includes students in seventh through 12th grades, marched in Saturday’s Fish Day parade as the culmination of their summer school experience.
The younger students were nervous but happy marching next to high school students who played the same instrument.
No one was prouder than Lori MacRae of Port Washington, who co-teaches the marching band with Port High band director Alan Dust and teaches summer school sixth-grade band.
That pride doubled when the sixth-grade band opened the end of summer school concert Sunday night at the Port Washington bandshell.
This is a hectic week for MacRae, who also plays the flute in the pit orchestra for the Port Summer Theatre production of “Legally Blonde.”
Her husband Mark directs the band and their daughter Kate has the lead role of Elle Woods in the musical that opens Thursday, July 26, for a four-day run.
In addition, MacRae directs the Port Washington City Band. Its final performance of the season is Sunday, Aug. 29.
When summer school, summer theater and the city band season is over, MacRae could take a break before the school year starts. She is the band director at Port Catholic School and Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School and directs the bell choir at First Congregational Church in Port Washington.
But not MacRae. On Aug. 20, she will be in a room with 21 beginning alto saxophone players who attend the West Bend Band Camp. She and her husband, who teaches beginning band students at Port Catholic School and gives private trumpet lessons, are instructors for the camp, which runs through Aug. 24.
On Aug. 27, the Cedar Grove-Belgium school year begins with an in-service day.
MacRae could be dubbed the First Lady of Music in Port, but she quickly rejects that idea.
“There are a lot of people who do more than I do,” MacRae said. “Port has a strong music tradition.”
That’s true, but there are few people who enjoy teaching middle school band students more than she does.
“Middle school is so neat,” MacRae said. “It’s such a huge time of change. They’re excited, they’re goofy, and I can be goofy with them. They’re becoming the adults they’re going to be.
“They’ve chosen this instrument, and it has value. It’s not a toy. Their excitement is so contagious.”
In the classroom, MacRae often picks up an instrument and plays with the students.
At a recent summer marching band rehearsal, only one trombone player was present, so she and Dust played trombones.
“We were making so many mistakes, and the students loved it,” she said. “As a music education major, you learn to play all the instruments. The only thing I’m really bad at is the tuba.”
The skills students learn go beyond playing their instruments, MacRae said.
“To be able to express your emotions through music is fabulous,” she said. “They also learn teamwork. You’re only as good as your weakest player.”
After the first week of “honking away,” MacRae tells students, “Now, do what you’re doing, but make it beautiful. Start thinking about the sound you’re making — soft and slow is much harder than fast and loud.”
Soon, she said, “They’re sustaining the notes and making this beautiful sound.”
MacRae wants students to develop an appreciation for music that will enhance their lives forever.
“My dad still plays the French horn in his 80s,” MacRae said. “He’s in three different ensembles. What a neat thing at his age.”
That’s one reason she likes the City Band so much.
“You have a 16-year-old sitting next to a 75-year-old, and they (the student) see that music is for a lifetime,” MacRae said.
She started playing the flute when she was in fourth grade in her hometown of Wilmette, Ill.
She met her husband while both were in the marching band at the University of Illinois, where they were pursuing music education degrees.
The couple lived in Wilmette after they married. There MacRae started a city band that she directed for 10 years. They moved to Port Washington in 1990. MacRae joined the City Band the first summer and became director the next year.
She began teaching at Port Catholic when their three children — Kate, now 28, and twins Matt and Russ, 23 — were in school.
She became involved in Port Summer Theatre because Kate, who is pursuing a master’s degree in choral conducting at the University of Iowa, has been in the musicals since she was young.
Soon the whole family was involved. The twins enjoy music, but are pursuing careers in construction and criminal justice.
MacRae and her husband are also members of the Lakeshore Symphonic Band, which rehearses from September to May. Mark plays trumpet and she plays the flute.
“It’s our date night,” she said. “I do this for me, to make me feel good. I felt my flute skills were getting rusty, and I wanted to get better.”
MacRae’s enjoyment of music, whether playing with symphonies or listening to the first sounds from a beginner’s instrument, is contagious. She connects with students in a way that inspires them to be better.
“I don’t feel I’ve grown up yet. I probably use the word ‘suck’ more than my friends do,” she said.
“I love kids, and I love music. I chose wisely.”
Image Information: Band director Lori MacRae was surrounded by sixth-grade students (front row, from left) Adam Watry, Allison Slamann, Katie Tyree, (back row) Eric Marquette, Zach Gephart, Max Tubbs and Anna Poull. Photo by Sam Arendt