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Park City High School Bands are winners

The Park City High School Percussion Ensemble is led by assistant director of bands Bret Hughes. (Photo by Jon Henry, courtesy of Jon Henry)
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The Park City High School returned safely from the World Strides Heritage Festival that was held in Topsfield, Mass., last week.

The young musicians didn’t come home empty handed.

Both the Jazz and Percussion ensembles came in first during the competition and the Wind Ensemble placed fourth.

Chris Taylor, director of bands for Park City High School, said the groups had been working on their pieces for quite a while.

"Generally our competition season takes place in March and April, so, we performed some of our competition works," Taylor said during an interview with The Park Record. "We needed a standard march, a lyrical piece and then something that is overture style that changes tempo, meter and shows off the technical playing."

The Wind Ensemble took four pieces of music — Richard Saucedo’s "Wind Sprints." Henry Filmore’s "Circus Bee March" Shostakovich’s "Fire of Eternal Glory." Jacob de Haas’ "Shattering Sparks."

"’Wind Sprints’ is a short piece but it’s a tour de force," Taylor said. "It’s very flashy and shows off a lot of technique and grabs the audience by the throat."

The ‘Circus B March’ is a little faster than a standard march, and the Shostakovich work is one of the composer’s most beautiful, he said.

"Then closed with ‘Shattering Sparks,’" Taylor said. "The level of difficulty on that one was definitely noted by the three judges.

"In fact, a percussion instructor from the New England Conservatory of Music, who was one of the judges, he looked at me and said, ‘You have some (guts),’" Taylor said. "For me, as a director, it was great."

Interestingly enough, the group played well, but Taylor’s not 100 percent convinced that when the young musicians walked off stage that they thought they did the best they’ve ever done.

"I think we could have played a little better, but it was a solid performance," he said. "Part of it was the climate affecting their reeds.

"It’s funny because we performed a follow up performance on Monday at Gordon College, and that was one where I could see the kids go, ‘Yeah. This was it.’"

The next group on the schedule was the 12-member Percussion Ensemble, directed by Hughes.

"They did great and were really, really good," Taylor said. "They placed first in their category."

The group opened with an arrangement of Gustav Holst’s "Mercury," which was taken from "The Planets" Suite, before sliding into a work called "Limerick Dreams," said Hughes.

"’Limerick Dreams’ was our feature work," Hughes said. "It was written by Nathan Daughtrey exclusively for percussion ensemble.

"It is a composition winner for the Percussion Arts Society International Competition in 2006," he said. "It’s a very cool selection of music."

The last work the Percussion Ensemble performed was a traditional piece called "County Clare," which was made famous by Bela Fleck.

"It’s got a bluegrass feel, and there is a cool groove to it," Hughes said.

While he was also happy with the scores and placement, Hughes said he didn’t feel the students played their best.

"Still, they played well, and to get a composite score of 94 even though they didn’t play their best was nice," he said.

The final band to play was the PCHS Jazz Ensemble, who capped the night off with Pat Metheny’s "Minuano," arranged by Bob Curnow, Taylor said.

"They were the last group in the jazz-band room, and played very well," he said.

But the performance and first-place finish was only part of the reward for the group.

"After the performances, each ensemble that played was able to participate in a five-minute clinic with one of the professors from the New England Conservatory, but the professor worked with the Jazz Ensemble for a good 15 to 20 minutes."

The reason was because he knew Bob Curnow.

"He was in Bob’s group that was the first to play ‘Minuano,’ after Metheny," Taylor said. "So, our students got all this insight from him and it really pushed the experience over the top.

"That’s the magic of these festivals. It’s nice to win the trophies, but it’s so incredible getting the feedback from the judges," Taylor said.

In addition, Park City High School won the World Strides overall instrumental sweepstakes that night.

"If schools enter more than two of their own groups, they automatically get entered into the sweepstakes, where the judges take the highest scores of all the groups and average them together to see who wins," Taylor said. "Some schools had 300 or more students there, so I was very excited we pulled off the sweepstakes award."

Taylor said the trip to Boston wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the support of parents and the Park City School District.

Even after the bombings, which occurred four days before the students’ flight, there was no question that the Park City group would participate in the festival, he said.

"We had made plans for the Boston trip as far back as September," he said. "When the bombings happened Bret and I got together with school’s principals and contacted the school superintendent and told them we still wanted to pursue the trip."

The support carried into a parent meeting shortly afterwards.

"Everyone gave a resounding yes, because we felt that things would be calmed down by the time we got on the plane," Taylor said. "We also felt it would be one of the safest places, because all eyes of the world will be on Boston. So, we were bound and determined and we went."

Since the festival was held at Masconomet Regional High School, in Topsfield, Mass., which is 20 miles north of Boston, Taylor, Hughes, the students and chaperones felt safe.

"The only way we could tell something was wrong was from the news," Taylor said. "I mean, the residents and the festival organizers were so gracious and welcoming. They kept telling us how happy they were that we attended, because there were a few schools that dropped out after the bombing."

Taylor is also happy for personal reasons.

"I’d be lying if I said my competitive nature didn’t kick in," he said. "When we go on these trips, I want to win. It’s also nice when we don’t. Because it motivates me to help the students be better prepared for things in the future.

"I also have a wonderful competitive thing going with Mr. Hughes," he laughed. "This is twice now that his Percussion ensemble has taken me."


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