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2011 Midwest Preview The Road to Chicago

Editor | December 2011


   Top bands, orchestras and ensembles from some of the finest programs in the country apply and perform at the Midwest Clinic each year. A few of these directors share the steps they took to build their outstanding programs.

Farmington Junior High 
Symphonic Band
Farmington, Utah
Director: Heath Wolf
   With a student body of 850, over 300 students in grades 7-9 participate in the three bands at Farmington Junior High. There is no feeder program, so all students start in seventh grade and are taught by Heath Wolf and his assistant director (and wife), Christine Wolf. “We are one of only two junior highs in Utah to have an assistant director. My wife started out pro bono helping the band and it evolved into a paid position. We agree on almost everything on running the program, and I couldn’t do it without her.
   “I had talked to many directors who have gone to Midwest before and heard that picking music was horrible. They reported many calls from publishers and composers, but although I received some random emails no one was pushy. It was a lot of material to go through, however, and by the time we got to the end, I was ready for it to be over. 
   “The process of signing up for music is cutthroat. It is done on the computer, and you have just minutes to type in the pieces you want. If you don’t type as fast as you can, some other director will get the piece you want. 
   “One of my favorite works is a piece we commissioned by Barry Kopetz. It was written in memory of our principal who passed away. It was in the works before we were invited to Midwest. It is an amazing piece and will be a special moment for us.”
   As with many groups, the students who auditioned last year, are no longer in the band. “We have a number of new students who joined the band and discovered that the previous year’s group earned them this very prestigious invitation. They are starting to understand what a big deal it is. The funny thing is that the local high school was just invited to the Rose Bowl Parade next year, so the current 9th graders will go to the Midwest Clinic and Rose Parade in back-to-back years.
   “Only about 30-35% of students take private lessons, so most of the work happens in rehearsal. Over the summer we rehearsed once a week to read music and establish an ensemble sound. We also had some section coaches to help over the summer. 
   “I never planned on becoming a teacher, I was going to be a percussion player. I was working on my master’s degree and had given my first recital, when I got severe tendinitis and couldn’t practice enough. I was married so I took a teaching job and soon realized how much I enjoyed it, particularly the junior high level. It is wonderful to to work with these students. They do not think they know more than you; they are receptive, exciting, and have tons of energy. If you can channel it, they can do amazing stuff.”

Cedar Park Middle School Saxophone Ensemble
Cedar Park, Texas
Director: Manuel C. San Luis
   “When our symphonic band was invited to Midwest in 2007, I noticed the chamber music category. Our saxophones were strong so I decided to give it a shot just for fun. This year the ensemble includes eight students, basically a double quartet although with a soprano.” The school is in a suburb of Austin and has 1300 hundred students in grades 6-8, and the band program has 360 students. 
   Chamber music is not part of the curriculum except for an annual solo and ensemble festival. To prepare for the Midwest audition the ensemble just added another number to what they had already prepared. Once they were accepted, extra rehearsals were fit into the schedule. “I meet with the altos, tenors, and baris separately 90 minutes a week and bring the ensemble together at the end of the week for two hours. Because this is a chamber group, I had to devote time outside of regular classes to teach the music. It has been a fun process; the ensemble is all boys and by the end of this they will be like brothers.”
   The logistics of bringing a small ensemble were simpler than his previous experience with a full band, but fundraising was harder. “With only eight students such costs as getting a nice program printed are difficult. It is easier to spread a $2,000 printing cost for programs over a 70-piece band. I have asked companies to help defray that cost through donations. 
   “Tuning is also critical with only eight players. With a full band I can rescore, but not with a saxophone ensemble. The students are a bit nervous and with middle school students there are always surprises during performances. During a recent preview concert one of the tenors forgot the key signature and the piece ended in minor instead of major. We fixed it, but the resolution was a bit odd.” 

‘Iolani School Orchestra 
Honolulu, Hawaii
Directors: Katharine Hafner, Joan Wehrman
   ‘Iolani School is a K-12 private school in Honolulu and arts are an important part of the curriculum. About 75% of students in grades 7-12 participate in performing arts. Hafner comments, “We have a Suzuki program that starts in kindergarten. Orchestra begins in fourth grade, and band in sixth grade as well as chorus and hula dance. We have eight orchestras, three in the lower school and five in the upper school. Students can start at any time. We have had some who started from scratch in seventh grade and end up being some of the best players. We also encourage students to take private lessons.
   “This is our top orchestra with advanced 7th graders. This year the group has 56 string players. We will perform string orchestra music for Midwest although we usually play full orchestra music because there is so much more excellent music. String players rehearse every day, and the wind players join rehearsals once a week. Our music for Midwest includes two pieces that no one will have heard before. One is a new arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition by Brazilian-American artist Clarice Assad. She has created a creative, colorful arrangement of this iconic piece for strings, big percussion section, and piano. It was written for the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco.”
   “The other piece is by contemporary Hungarian composer Gyorgi Orban. I found this piece as a fluke and pursued it until I finally got my hands on it. He wrote it for a small string orchestra, and we are playing it with a big string orchestra. It has a little bit of Bartok, Ravel, a little bit of jazziness, and his own special touch.
   “We are also going to be bringing hula dancers. Hula is an art form and very serious here. We are only the second group and first orchestra that has ever come to the Midwest Clinic from Hawaii, so we feel that we represent the state and wanted to share hula with the audience. I arranged two pieces for the strings to play with the dancers. The point of hula is that the motions you make with your body illustrate the words. Unfortunately, we won’t be performing the words but they will be in the program. 
   “We will also play at a local high school and see William Harris Lee repair instruments. I imagine the students will want to go ice skating. Some have never seen snow so even a few flurries will be a big deal.”

Douglas Anderson School 
of the Arts Wind Symphony
Jacksonville, Florida 
Director: Shawn Barat
   Douglas Anderson School is an arts school for students in grades 9-12. “Our students get the opportunity to have more time in their arts area. They are required to take music theory, keyboard skills, and music history.    We offer electives in electronic music and recording technology as well. The wind symphony meets every day. During fourth period all of the top ensembles on campus meet for 90 minutes. The school is set up to support the top groups in every arts area. It allows me to do things that I maybe would not have done in a more traditional setting. We have more time to work on advanced pieces, and it allows me to do fundamental training for a third of the rehearsal period and still have plenty of time for everything else.
   “Preparing a high caliber program for the Midwest Clinic is challenging. This past spring the band performed the Hindemith Symphony, and it was such a demanding piece of music. For Midwest we will prepare 11 or 12 pieces to this level. The performance in December will be a great experience in itself, but the process of preparing for it is where we are all going to grow. 

Bands Performing at Midwest
Claughton Middle School Symphonic Band, Houston, Texas 
Cobb Wind Symphony, Marietta, Georgia 
Creekview High School Wind Symphony, Carrollton, Texas 
Cross Timbers Middle School Honors Band, Grapevine, Texas 
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Wind Sym., Jacksonville, Florida 
Farmington Junior High Symphonic Band, Farmington, Utah 
Kunitachi College of Music Blasorchester, Tachikawa-City, Tokyo Japan
L.V. Berkner High School Symphonic Band I, Richardson, Texas 
Lakota West Symphonic Winds, West Chester, Ohio 
Northshore Concert Band, Evanston, Illinois 
Springdale Har-Ber High School Wind Symphony, Springdale, Arkansas 
The Air National Guard Band of the Midwest, Peoria, Illinois 
The U.S. Army Band Pershing’s Own, Washington, D.C. 
VanderCook College of Music Symphonic Band, Chicago, Illinois 

Orchestras at Midwest
Beckendorff Junior High Symphony Orchestra, Katy, Texas 
Bothell High School Chamber Orchestra, Bothell, Washington 
Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras, Chicago, Illinois 
Iolani School Orchestra, Honolulu, Hawaii 
James E. Taylor H.S. Symphony Orchestra, Katy, Texas 
Rapid City Central H.S. Chamber Orchestra, Rapid City, South Dakota 
Robinson Middle School Orchestra, Wichita, Kansas 
Symphony Orchestra of Shanghai Nan Yang Model High School, 
Shanghai, Zhabei District China
ViBravo String Ensemble (Clayton Honors Orch.), Clayton, Missouri 

Jazz Ensembles
Downers Grove South High School Jazz Ensemble, Downers Grove, Illinois 
Midwest Young Artists Big Band, Highwood, Illinois 
Mountain View High School Jazz Ensemble I, Vancouver, Washington 
St. Charles North High School Jazz Ensemble, St. Charles, Illinois 
The Jazz Ambassadors of The U.S. Army Field Band, Ft. Meade, Maryland 
University of Illinois Concert Jazz Band, Urbana, Illinois 
University of Nevada Las Vegas Jazz Ensemble I, Las Vegas, Nevada 
Western Michigan University Jazz Orchestra, Kalamazoo, Michigan 
Small Ensembles
Boston Brass, Northboro, Massachusetts 
Cedar Park Middle School Saxophone Ensemble, Cedar Park, Texas 
Chicago Brass Band, Chicago, Illinois 
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Central Band
"The Japan Tubists", Nerima-ku, Tokyo Japan
Lassiter High School Percussion Ensemble, Marietta, Georgia 
Schindewolf/Strack Intermediate Perc. Ensemble, Spring, Texas 
The U.S. Army Band Chamber Ensemble, Washington, D.C. 
University of Missouri Bassoon Ensemble, Columbia, Missouri