My Experience as a Gumbo Performer


(Photo: Bout That Brass)

Maya Lewis

The thrill of performance is unmatched by any other experience. Having a crowd follow your every move and note and hearing the rounds of applause following your performance are incredible feelings. In the past, I’ve performed in groups and by myself. My introduction to performance was through curricular band and chorus in elementary school. Soon after, I was able to join other ensembles including jazz bands Symphony Orchestra, and now, Bout That Brass. Among other things, my brass group enables me to perform at Gumbo, Centreville’s biannual talent showcase.

Called Gumbo because it is a mixture of different delicious ingredients, just like the dish, this event is an amazing experience on and off the stage. Gumbo recently had its 36th show since its beginning, and has many more to come. This amalgamation of student (and faculty) talent is a must-see. With every new show there’s something new in the pot even more flavorful than the last addition. To top it off, Mr. Burke’s wife, Naila Burke, prepares pots of gumbo and cornbread for everyone to enjoy following their performances. Having experienced Gumbo as both an audience member and performer in the seven Gumbos that have taken place in my time at Centreville, I can verify that it is an incomparable experience for all.

The first Gumbo I attended was the Winter Gumbo of my Freshman year. This performance featured the likes of Noah Dail and Thomas Cummings, Centreville legends that still make music to this day. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of talent I was able to witness as an audience member, I petitioned to get myself onto the stage for Spring Gumbo. Soon enough, I found myself in an instrumental group called Game On, where we performed a song composed by Thomas Cummings, who also served as our bassist. After a couple practices, we were ready to perform onstage in February 2017.

My first time on the Gumbo stage was nerve wracking, as well as fruitful in all respects. I was able to perform for the first time as part of a small group, without other band members onstage to hide me from the spotlight. Being a soloist in our performance allowed me to fight my stage fright in the most effective way possible: the room being silent save for me. Gumbo has allowed for me to grow as a performer, musician, and individual by allowing for me to tackle my fears head on.

After this initial performance, I knew that I needed to find my way onto the Gumbo stage again. My next opportunity came in the form of Bout That Brass, a brass band formed the year after I first performed at Gumbo. As the older members graduated, it was my time to join Bout That Brass my junior year. As the first and only girl in the band, my goal was to make a statement. After hard individual work and many group practices, it was time to again take the Gumbo stage. And take we did. The feeling of an audience clapping along and cheering as you perform, and the rounds of applause following are indescribable. Bout That Brass rocked the house on another night filled with amazing Centreville talent, this time including younger performers who took the place of former seniors, just as I had. Adding new spices and ingredients to the ever growing gumbo pot.

Now, as a senior, I grace the Gumbo stage as the leader of Bout That Brass. This requires organizing my band members, setting dates for practices, and completing the many requirements necessary of a band leader to make Gumbo a success. As a student involved in a number of extra-curricular activities, I find that there is little time left for endeavors such as performances. Despite this, Gumbo is not something that I’d ever like to miss during my time as a Centreville High School student. My band, Bout That Brass, has a number of members with commitments and obligations in numbers comparable to my own. This makes finding time to practice at times very difficult. Our practices usually occur during free time during band class, and on the rare occasion we can get everyone together on a weekend. Usually not even all of our members can make a practice, but we make it work. 

After strenuous and abundant practice comes audition day. Groups of instrumentalists, vocalists, comedians, and miscellaneous performers line the music department hallway after school to audition to be a part of the next Gumbo. After spending every minute prior to your own audition practicing comes the audition itself. Everyone in the group goes into the guitar room where Mr. Burke and a panel of judges including former Gumbo performers, current musicians, and sometimes Mrs. Burke sit in chairs facing the stage in the room. After spending a few minutes setting up, the performance begins. Following the performance, the group is thanked and sent away while the next group is filed in. The week after, results are posted outside the Guitar room. Funnily enough, one group from Gumbo XXXVI said, “We planned our whole performance while waiting for our audition time, and called ourselves ‘Last Minute’.” (Last Minute Member)

After being selected to perform at Gumbo, a two-week period remains for Mr. Burke and performers to prepare for the big day. Each group is equipped with a bandleader who was selected on or before audition day. As bandleader, a number of hidden responsibilities present themselves during the Gumbo process. These include making posters to hang around the school, enlisting the help of an adult to volunteer on Gumbo night, and signing forms and the like to make performances possible. In fact, before becoming bandleader, I had no clue that any of these obligations even existed. Having someone trustworthy and responsible as your bandleader is extremely important when preparing to perform at Gumbo, lest your group loses its performing privileges. (Almost) finally is the dress rehearsal, where the huge hanging guitar that serves as the backdrop for Gumbo can be seen, and other performances previewed as the sound and lighting are adjusted for every group. Finally comes the performances, where the fruits of each performer (and gumbo) will finally be enjoyed by an audience — with rounds and rounds of applause to follow.