The pit director: Amundson enjoys first year with Mitchell pit band
Since she was a toddler, Bethany Amundson has been making music.
"From the time I was 2, I would grab the mouthpiece off my dad's trumpet and run around the house blowing it," the first-year director of the Mitchell show choir's pit band said. "I could make a really good sound out of it even when I was really little."
Amundson's father was a jazz trumpeter in the Twin Cities, and she often accompanied him to gigs throughout the area and was infatuated by his at-home rehearsals.
"He was always playing around the house some sort of trumpet and improvising, so it was just part of my daily life," she said.
The trumpet is Amundson's self-declared first love and primary instrument. By the time she was 8, she was reading music and playing notes. And, at 13, she auditioned for the band at her high school in Richfield, Minn., playing Carnival of Venice, an advanced piece for such a young musician.
"She looked at me and said, 'I think you're going to be a band director someday,'" Amundson said. "That idea just stuck in my head. Dad planted my love of music, and my band director planted the seed of doing it for a career, and it's just kind of grown from there."
Amundson, 36, earned her bachelor's degree in music education and her master's in trumpet performance and conducting before taking jobs teaching instrumental music at Wessington Springs and T.F. Riggs high schools in South Dakota. In 2015, she took the position of director and instructor at Dakota Wesleyan University and began working with the Mitchell High School marching band as a brass technician. Friend de Coup director Jen Randall asked Amundson to join her in working with the show choir this year.
Her schedule has been maxed out this year, but, remarkably, none of her DWU engagements conflicted with show choir competitions. And Randall and the students were accommodating to her busy schedule, which included missing one of the three scheduled evening rehearsals each week, due to DWU orchestra rehearsal.
"The students have been great about ... working pretty independently if I'm not there and just joining in the choir," Amundson said, making her first year a little easier. "They just self-appointed a leader, I gave them assignments, and they got them done,"
Though her musical resume is robust, Amundson said she did have a bit of a learning curve this season.
"I was never in show choir, so learning about the role of the pit (band) is and how we're judged at competition is a bit of learning curve," but Randall and the students have guided her, Amundson said.
The pit band, which has been dubbed Severe Tire Damage since the group's trailer experienced multiple blowouts and other wheel mishaps, includes two seniors, one junior, one sophomore and one freshman this year. The small, young ensemble features a trumpet, baritone saxophone, trombone, auxiliary percussionist, drum set, bass, piano, two tenor saxophones and two synthesizers.
"It's incredible what they've been able to achieve," Amundson remarked, especially since the choir completely revamped their set mid-season. "That was crazy, but I was so proud of ... how hard they worked and how much determination and grit they showed."
Especially considering their age, Amundson was shocked that the band was ready to rehearse with the full choir after just one rehearsal.
"It was phenomenal to us adults what these kids were accomplishing in such a short period of time," she said. "They didn't really complain about it all, and they really liked the new music."
And it showed, come competition time.
"The feedback from the judges was overwhelming," she said. "They were in tears. They were so positive about everything and just in awe of what the kids could do."
Although the band had set their sights on re-claiming the Best Band award they received last year at competition, the ensemble of young musicians fell just short, but always finished in the top three. Next year, they hope to grow their group to broaden the breadth of their music and wow judges. Many of the bands they compete against have twice as many instrumentalists.
Amundson said she is excited to see what the future holds for Severe Tire Damage, and is enjoying the opportunity to grow together through the show choir.
"For the younger ones, everything is a new, fun adventure. ... That energy is fun to work with," she said. "If we can keep this core group going, they're really going to be awesome by the time they're seniors."
The show choir's final performance of the year is tonight at the Corn Palace. The group will perform its show, "Friends" for the last dinner theater at 5 p.m.