Battle of the bands
April 10, 2009
Last Thursday, 53 Park City High School (PCHS) students, two teachers and four chaperones boarded a plane bound for Washington, D.C. They hoped that in the bins overhead and luggage compartments below, their collection of approximately 80 musical instruments would make it to their final destination safe and sound.
Each year, the PCHS Wind, Percussion and Varsity Jazz Ensembles travel to a national festival where they compete with bands from other schools, engage in clinics with renowned teachers and performers, and get a chance to do some stellar sightseeing along the way.
Between events on their jam-packed schedule, this year’s group barely got enough shut-eye to recover from the jet lag. "We’re all exhausted, but it was a blast and I’d do it again in a minute," said Chris Taylor, who directs the Jazz Band and the Wind Ensemble.
The bands participated in the Leesburg, Va., Heritage Festival, part of a series of festivals across the country that provide performance and learning opportunities for middle- and high-school bands, choirs and orchestras. During the festival, schools are matched with top music professionals who provide feedback on students’ performance.
At the end of the festival, each ensemble is given a score on a 100-point scale from each of the three judges. Since all Heritage Festivals use the same scoring criteria, each ensemble’s cumulative score represents where it ranks on a national level.
All three PCHS performance groups earned gold awards for scoring 90 or higher, and the Percussion Ensemble and Varsity Jazz Band both won adjudicator awards for scoring above 92. Varsity Jazz also took home first place in the overall sweepstakes in the instrumental category, competing against bands from seven other schools. PCHS also took home the instrumental sweepstakes award for achieving the highest overall average award
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Junior Chris Croce, who plays bass in the Jazz Band and French horn in the Wind Ensemble, received the "maestro" award for outstanding musicianship, which was presented to only four participants in the entire festival.
The high performance marks were one of several highlights of the trip. "The best part was seeing the students get to experience the Washington, D.C., area. You could just see the awe-factor in their eyes," said Bret Hughes, director of the Percussion Ensemble and assistant director of the Wind Ensemble. The group visited Mt. Vernon, Arlington Cemetery, the White House, the Smithsonian, the National Archives and other landmarks during their stay.
"My favorite part was a night tour of the national monuments," said junior Kyle Richards. He also enjoyed the Cherry Blossom Festival, which happened to be at its peak while the group was in town.
The Varsity Jazz Band had the unique opportunity to perform for the U.S. Navy’s premier jazz ensemble, the "Commodores," at the Navy Yard. The Navy band members really got into the high-schoolers’ performance, said Taylor. "One saxophone player said that it was the best high school band he’d ever heard." The Naval musicians also held a question-and-answer session and talked with the students about careers in the military.
The Wind Ensemble participated in a clinic with University of Maryland band director Richmond Sparks. "I was really impressed with [the students’] level of interest and respect, especially considering that they had been awake for about 48 hours," said Taylor.
The trip also proved to be a great bonding experience for the students. "It was definitely worthwhile," said Chris Domenick, a senior who plays in the Wind Ensemble. "Overall it was a very successful trip and everyone became closer."
"There were definitely some friendships made, and there were definitely some friendships strengthened," added Hughes.
Upcoming performances for the PCHS performing groups include a jazz concert on May 28, a percussion concert on May 26 and Band-A-Palooza on June 4. The Percussion and Wind Ensembles will perform in state competitions on April 25 and May 1, respectively. For a schedule of events, visit http://www.pchs.pcschools.us.