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Perspectives of the Performing Groups

compiled by editors | December 2018

    The 2018 Midwest Clinic, which runs December 19-22, promises to be as wonderful as ever, with performing ensembles from as far away as Italy and Japan and as close as Chicago itself, and clinics for everyone, whether you’re still in college or looking ahead to your final spring concert. Notable new additions include the H. Robert Reynolds Conducting Institute, an in-depth conducting symposium for selected participants (but open to all to watch) and the Day One initiative, a series of short, content-rich, nuts-and-bolts presentations to assist instrumental music educators in starting students properly their instruments. Also, be one of the lucky 100 people to sign up for Friday’s Breakfast with Legends, an engaging and relaxed opportunity to chat with twelve icons of the profession, including Paula Crider, Jerry Junkin, Frank Ticheli, and Alfred Watkins.

    The following pages contain stories from a few of the performing ensembles. One school’s students surprised their director by working all the way through a piece for the first time on a day he was late for rehearsal. Another school overcame having its funding for the trip to Chicago rescinded in September. There are tales of a tie in a safe, a bow that exploded (kind of), and a connection to a Midwest performance from ten years ago.

Composer Melanie Shore (in pink) poses with the Farmington (Utah) Junior High Jazz Ensemble as they rehearse her new piece, Distant Horizons.

Farmington Junior High
Jazz Ensemble

Farmington, Utah
Directed by Heath Wolf

    One third of the 1,200+ students at Farmington Junior High School are band members. Of that 400, 31 students are traveling to Midwest. The group is a traditional jazz ensemble of 17 with a couple students who switch around in the rhythm section. The remaining students are alternate players, who will only perform if a core member is unable to do so. Says director Heath Wolf, “We wanted to make everything about the Midwest Clinic experience memorable so we had a special tie created for our uniforms, not knowing it would take three months for them to be produced. It took so long that we did not have the ties for the picture that will be in the Midwest Clinic program. The ties finally arrived in late October, and one student told me that he put his tie in the family safe.”
    The ensemble commissioned works from Gordon Goodwin and Melanie Shore. Says Wolf, “Goodwin wrote a fun and fast piece entitled Cerebro Congelado
 (Brain Freeze). It has all the makings of a Big Phat Band piece, and the kids love it. Melanie Shore’s new piece, Distant Horizons, is a feature for our piano player. Shore has won a couple composition competitions, and the jazz community should know of her music.”
* * *

Melanie Shore
Composing for Farmington Junior High Jazz Ensemble

How did you start on the path to composing?
    From a young age, I was involved in school composition competitions, and as I got more familiar with learning the piano, I enjoyed composing short pieces. As I grew and explored the jazz world, I was encouraged by mentors to compose more often. I ultimately ended up studying jazz composition in college and received advanced degrees in that area. Since then, I have been a commissioned composer, as well as an arranger, and it has been a rewarding experience to be able to work with a variety of ensembles and do what I love. 

Please discuss the piece you will premiere at Midwest, the pro­cess of writing it, and the collaboration with the ensemble.
    Distant Horizon was commissioned by Heath Wolf, the band director at Farmington Junior High School. After discussion with Mr. Wolf, it was decided that a ballad would be fitting for the ensemble. I have worked many times as a clinician for FJHS and privately teach several students there, so I was familiar with the abilities of the band. I envisioned a melodic line that would be beautiful, as well as playable by any instrument. The initial writing of the melody was done in my head, away from my workspace. From there, I experimented on the piano with supporting chords that would give the melody the emotional energy it needed. The B section of this tune is rooted in a slightly more modern harmonic tradition than the A section, as a contrast that would be pleasing for the listener and fresh for the ensemble, and the groove also differentiates to serve as rhythmic contrast within the piece. 

What is one piece that you wish more ensembles would play?
    With such a rich and vast library of the music of Horace Silver, I would like to hear arrangers and ensembles delve into his repertoire. Nica’s Dream is a personal favorite. 

What musician, past or present, do you wish you could bump into at Midwest and why?
    Roy Hargrove, may he rest in peace. With his passing, the world has lost a musician who embodied greatness in both his artistry and his mentorship. We all needed more time with his influence. 

(Photo by Pepper Nix)
* * *
Crosby High School
Symphonic Band

Crosby, Texas
Directed by Kevin Knight
    The 56-member Crosby High School Symphonic Band had an unexpected obstacle pop up in September. Director Kevin Knight explains: “Our school district is currently facing major financial setbacks and was forced to reduce all budgets this year. The funding for Midwest that was approved and guaranteed by the school board last May was rescinded this Sep­tem­ber, and our band budget for the year was reduced by over 70%. We were tasked with raising the entirety of the funds for Midwest in less than three months.
    “By early November, we raised almost $65,000. The students have been fundraising almost every day, and projects have included bake sales, product sales, donations, giveaway drawings, pep bands, and restaurant spirit nights. What is most special is the outpouring of love from the Crosby community, the greater Houston area, and the band world. Band directors and their programs from all over Texas have been holding fundraisers for us. We are forever grateful to everyone who supported these students on their Midwest journey.” 
    All the band directors at Crosby team teach from beginning band through high school. The two high school directors and two middle school directors help each other with the ensembles and break down the beginners into homogenous classes to give the students an individualized approach to music education. Says Knight, “This means we will know the students for the entirety of their seven-year journey through middle and high school band.”
    The band commissioned Julie Giroux, who wrote a moving rendition of In the Bleak Midwinter. The score reads: “To be played like you still believe in the magic of Santa Claus.” 

McMeans Junior High
Camerata Orchestra

Katy, Texas
Directed by Amy Williams

    The 29 students in this string ensemble are a diverse and multi-talented bunch. Twenty-three of them speak more than one language, and six speak more than two. In addition, 15 members play more than one instrument, and there are 21 athletes in the group. The orchestra has invited three students from United Sound, a group of special needs students who have been taught to play an instrument by peer mentors, to perform with them on the final piece at the Midwest concert, an arrangement of Rosa de Fuego by Manuel Joves. Another new work on the concert is Hymns for Vivian by Gabe Musella. Director Amy Wil­liams says, “This was written in memory of my mother, Vi­vi­an Daniel, and is a collection of her favorite hymns.” The string orchestra is also performing an arrangement of the circus march In Storm and Sunshine by John Clifford Heed and arranged by Williams’s husband, Gene.
    On the memories made during their preparations, Williams recalled, “My students’ favorite moment was when my bow exploded when I made a wild hand gesture while holding it. I pointed at the viola section, and the plug for the bow hair came out.”

Longfellow Middle School
Chamber Orchestra

Falls Church, Virginia
Directed by Bomin Collins

    Longfellow Middle School has 250 students in its orchestra program and five levels of string ensemble, with students ranging from beginners to having experience performing with professional orchestras as a soloist. The Chamber Orchestra is the most advanced of these and consists of 38 students: 23 violins, six violas, seven cellos, and two basses. The ensemble rehearses 45 minutes daily and has also been practicing on Friday nights. Ninety-six percent of the students in the ensemble study privately and have attended summer camps.
    The orchestra has a student soloist, Serenna Semonsen, who is performing the Presto movement of Vivaldi’s Summer. Anthony Maiello and Brian Balmages are guest conducting, and students have had an incredible experience working with Balmages on his piece 30,000 and Forever.

The Longfellow Middle School Chamber Orchestra

Science Hill High School
Percussion Ensemble

Johnson City, Tennessee
Directed by Dan McGuire

    Director Dan McGuire recalls, “In late October, I had a clinician in, and I was explaining to him that we were not all the way through learning the piece he was getting ready to see, but there was still plenty to work with. We spent a little too long catching up in my office and realized that we were late getting into the percussion ensemble room.
    When we arrived, I realized that the students were playing the end of the piece. I told my clinician that I didn’t know what was going on, but that we should just roll with it. The students got to the end without any problems, and I asked them, ‘Did you all just hit the end?’ They replied, ‘We went ahead and finished the entire piece and put it together while we were waiting for you.’ It was a proud moment.”
    The 25-member ensemble is performing one commissioned work: Watauga by Joshua Spaulding, who is an alumnus of the program. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Composition from the University of Nebraska and has also composed for band, woodwind quartet, and other chamber ensembles. Notes McGuire, “Josh does excellent work, and I look forward to seeing where he goes from here.”

Ronald Reagan H.S.
Wind Ensemble

San Antonio, Texas
Directed by Daniel D. Morrison

    The Reagan High School Wind Ensemble was named a Mark of Excellence National Winner for 2018. In late October, composer Donald Grantham visited the school to work with the 6/8-member ensemble, which is premiering a piece of his, Circa 1600, at Midwest. Director Daniel Morrison says, “Having a composer of his caliber out working with our students was nothing short of incredible.” In addition to the school’s upcoming performance in Chicago, the Reagan Marching Band will travel to New York to perform in the 2019 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Whitney M. Young Magnet High School
Chamber Orchestra

Chicago, Illinois
Directed by Michael Mascari

    With only 4 1⁄2 miles between the school and McCormick Place, the 35 students in this orchestra – the first orchestra and only the third ensemble of any type from Chicago Public Schools to receive an invitation to perform at Midwest – are simply meeting at Midwest on the morning of their performance.
    Says director Michael Mascari, “I have been impressed with the degree to which the students have taken ownership of this opportunity. It’s been fascinating to watch my students push themselves and each other to achieve a level of performance far beyond what they were able to achieve in the past. For some reason, one of my students had the wrong date in her calendar for the Midwest performance, and her family booked a non-refundable trip home to China, scheduled to leave on the same day. Missing the performance was simply not an option for this student, so she paid the cancellation and rebooking fees and will be making the 16-hour flight back to China by herself. That’s how important this performance is to these students.”
    The ensemble has not commissioned anything for their performance, but Mascari says, “The program has been carefully designed to represent multiculturalism in America; we wanted to present a concert that reflects the diversity of our wonderful city. The program includes Sinfonietta by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson and the Six Dances for String Orchestra by Ulysses Kay, African-American composers whose names should be commonplace in the annuls of American music history. In addition, we are featuring the music of Japanese-American composer Yukiko Ni­shi­mura, and a fabulous piece by Venezuelan-born composer Efraín Amaya.” 

Keller Middle School
Wind Ensemble

Keller, Texas
Directed by Jedidiah Maus

    All but one piece for Keller’s Midwest performance were written in the past two years, and the concert program has multiple Texas connections. Says director Jedidiah Maus, “Several of our pieces were written by Texas composers, in­cluding Carol Brit­tin Chambers, Jack Wilds, and John Wasson. We commissioned Was­son’s piece, which is called The Blue Bonnet Revue and is a salute to Texas folk songs.” Another work, Verus by William Pitts, will feature Mark Houghton, who is third horn of the Pittsburgh Sym­phony and a Keller alumnus.
    “My students have enjoyed connecting with the composers and gaining the unique insight that only a composer has. Also, in the effort to draw musical expression out of the students, I have done some creative teaching that includes jumping on chairs, operatic singing, dancing, and basically anything that elicits a change in musical expression from young players.” There are 73 students in the ensemble.

Bridle Path/Montgomery Elementary
Select String Ensemble

Landsdale, Pennsylvania
Directed by Ralph T. Jackson

    This is the group’s third appearance at Midwest, following performances in 2008 and 2013. The ensemble has 35 students in fourth through sixth grade. Says director Ralph T. Jackson, “Usually at this time of year we are preparing to perform three or four pieces for our annual winter concert. This year, we are working towards performing 10 pieces at the Midwest Clinic. It surprised my students (and me) how much can be accomplished when you really buckle down and work towards a worthwhile goal.”
    The ensemble is performing the work they commissioned from Brian Balmages in 2008, Danza Latina. The piece was originally written for, and performed by Venezuelan viola soloist Adriana Linares. Now, 10 years later, her student and former member of the Bridle Path/Montgomery Select String Ensemble, Priscilla Paino, will perform the viola solo.