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Mara Rose Bruce leaves Fleming Island High on high note

Legendary Director of Bands to retire, spend time on boat at end of school year

Don Coble
Posted 5/23/24

FLEMING ISLAND – Mara Rose Bruce always said her fondest opus was never found on a page of sheet music. It could be seen in the eyes and on the faces of her music students, measured by their …

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Mara Rose Bruce leaves Fleming Island High on high note

Legendary Director of Bands to retire, spend time on boat at end of school year


Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – Mara Rose Bruce always said her fondest opus was never found on a page of sheet music. It could be seen in the eyes and on the faces of her music students, measured by their imagination, spirit and passion, not their ability to play the scales or keep a beat.

Beyond music, her greatest delight was seeing hundreds of her students evolve into confident, successful people. She created encouraging and empathic relationships, using music as the conduit.

After leading the Eagle Band One for the past 15 years, the woman everyone knew as Ms. Rose took her final bow as the school’s Director of Bands.

After touching thousands of students, parents and onlookers with performances that took her bands around the world, a standing-room-only audience was treated to performances by the Symphonic, Wind Ensemble and Marching Bands in a night called “One Last Time: A Celebration of Mara Rose Bruce.”

There were tears and surprises, along with testimonies and outstanding performances.

Best of all, the community had the opportunity to tell Ms. Rose “thank you” for all she’s done.

“Ms. Rose was adamant that tonight was not to be about her and should only be about the students,” said Assistant Band Director of Bands Alex Buck, who will take over next year. “However, the students and I agreed that she deserved to have a night celebrating her. So I gave her no choice. Besides, here in about two hours, I’m the boss!

“Altering a famous quote by the composure Edgar Elgar, I say, ‘Mara, while your place at Fleming Island will be occupied, it will never be filled.’”

Under her direction, the Eagle One Band played twice in London’s New Year’s Day parade. They also traveled to Atlanta and Italy. The Symphonic and Wind Ensemble bands played at a sold-out Carnegie Hall last month.

The program included 10 songs – eight of which were in the program and two surprises. One of the scheduled songs was “A Rose Blooms Forth,” written for Ms. Rose. Another was “Stars and Stripes Forever,” where her husband, Jim Bruce, walked on stage mid-song with a piccolo. He tapped Ms. Rose on the shoulder, took her baton, and handed her the piccolo. Rose brought more than 650 people to their feet by playing the solo portion of the song.

Bert Creswell, former president of the Florida Bandmasters Association and inaugural band director at Fleming Island High, surprised Ms. Rose by reminding everyone he hired her in 2009.

“She came in, we interviewed,” he said. “I don’t remember how many – six or seven people. When I got through, the principal said down and asked me what I thought. I said, ‘They all may be fine, but I know Mara will be best. She will. I’ve heard her bands. I’ve seen her bands. I know what she’s going to do.’

“He was gracious enough to listen to me. So, you’re welcome for all you kids who have been in band for 16 years here.”

Like a symphony, the night was building to a fantastic crescendo. Buck said Ms. Rose tried unsuccessfully to include “A Thousand Years” into the marching band’s routine for the past six years. That was about to change.

“I told the students that I was choosing that piece selfishly, and they said, well, we want to give something to Ms. Rose, too,” Buck said. “I decided that it needed to be music. And so years ago, when we first talked about this concert, we knew one day it would come. She said when I retire, I want all the music that means the most to me to play. And she left something off because every time we sat down to plan our marching show for the last six years, she brought this song to the table and said this is the one that needs to be in the show every year.”

Buck solicited help from Dr. Karen Large, the Professor of Flute at Florida State University, to perform a solo to open “A Thousand Years.”

Less than 40 seconds into the song, Ms. Rose gasped loudly and smiled approvingly as the ballad proceeded. Then, the marching band stormed from the back of the cafetorium to surround the audience and join Dr. Large and the Wind Ensemble in the song.

Ms. Rose dried her eyes to address the appreciative audience.

“My students have been my entire life,” she said. “I didn’t know there was anything else. I don’t regret one moment of that thought process because it brought me here. It has brought me the people who are closest to me in my life. I will forever thank everybody who ever gave me a job because, let’s face it, I had to have a job to be a band director.”

Ms. Rose clutched the baton one final time, stepped before the Wind Ensemble, and directed the group in one final piece, “Council Oak.”

Afterward, she took a final bow.

“It is time for me to pass on the baton to someone else to be the steward of this amazing group. We call it EBO. I can’t think of a better person to be an EBO steward than my current crime partner, my dearest friend Alex Buck. So, for the last time, as the head of EBO, I will simply say, ‘You will be missed, and I will think of you while we are on our boat.’”