The Morse Rock Ensemble has developed a repertoire of 17 songs, which often include sections transcribed by students. John Terhune / The Times Record

A bluesy guitar riff gives way to pounding drums, and the music room erupts in noise.

The students of the Morse High School Rock Ensemble, who have spent the year mastering over 15 songs by artists like Nirvana, Adele and the Black Keys, will show what a different kind of Maine high school music program can look like at its spring concert this Friday.

“What makes this group so successful is the egos haven’t been present,” music teacher John Morneau said of the band, which is comprised of a swarm of guitarists, vocalists and wind players, plus a drummer. “I think they all care about one another.”

Drummer Zack Foreman leads the rhythm section at a rehearsal Tuesday morning. John Terhune / The Times Record

The ensemble, which meets as a regular class three times per week, was the brainchild of beloved music teacher Anthony Marro, who died in December.

“He had the patience to teach anyone anything,” baritone saxophone player Emily Tetzlaff said of Marro, who started the rock program several years ago. “He was always there for every student, no matter what age.”

Under Marro, the group would work through sheet music measure by measure, similar to a concert band, Tetzlaff said. But after the pandemic prevented the school from offering the class last year and Marro’s death rocked the group this winter, the band discovered a new system for learning songs, which Tetzlaff described as “organized chaos.”


(From left to right) Elizabeth Tetzlaff, Hadley Wong and Nina Ryan make up half the group’s vocalists. John Terhune / The Times Record

“We haven’t always had instructing all the time,” said vocalist Nina Ryan. “I think we’ve done a lot of collaborating amongst ourselves. It’s a lot of working really close together.”

The bands rhythm, wind and vocal sections work first by themselves and then together to learn their pieces, according to Morneau, who came out of retirement to fill Marro’s absence this year. While the group’s half-dozen vocalists practice harmonies, the instrumentalists listen to recordings of songs on their phones and then transcribe their parts as sheet music or guitar tablature.

Often, they will invent wind or guitar parts for songs that don’t have them, which can put a unique spin on tunes like “Fell in Love with a Girl,” which the White Stripes recorded as a barebones headbanger.

“Yeah, these are other people’s songs, but we play them so differently and vibrantly,” said lead guitarist Trent Day, who has written several original solos. “You know it’s that song, but you also know that it’s us playing it.”

Day, who transferred from Oxford Hills in December, was one of six new members to join the ensemble this winter, when the group had four songs in its repertoire.

Rather than settle for bringing the new bandmates up to speed, Morneau proposed a challenge for his now 16-person ensemble: finish the year with an arsenal of 15 to 20 songs and perform them at an outdoor blowout.


“I wouldn’t have done that had I not had a sense that there was something special about that group,” Morneau said. “It’s been a pleasure to experience this every day and watch them grow.”

The students, who say they surprised themselves by meeting Morneau’s goal, are looking forward to the spotlight at 6:30 Friday night at Library Park, where they’ll play songs like “Mustang Sally,” “Southern Cross” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”

“This has been my dream,” said Day, who is graduating next week. “To be a part of this, to be such a big member and to feel as important and as valued as I do, it’s just a world of unknown euphoria that I cannot describe.”

“As seniors, this is our life,” agreed Ryan. “This is the culmination. I’m going to miss it so much.”

Emma Benoit plays guitar while teacher John Morneau watches the ensemble practice days before their spring concert. John Terhune / The Times Record

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