On the evening of February 8th, all MCPS Honors Bands and Orchestras gave a performance at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. Groups playing in the program included the Junior and Senior Bands and Orchestras. Among the audiences were parents of young musicians, professional conductors around the DC metropolis, orchestral music lovers, and several Members of the MCPS Board of Education.
The four groups prepared a wide, diverse array of selections from Handel’s Concerto in G Major to Greensleeves. Representing different cultures around the world, taken together, the pieces conveyed a celebratory, pastoral message while allowing performers to show-off their expertise. Many excerpts performed, such as Children’s March by Grainger and Angels in Architecture by Ticheli, also captured themes of youthful vitality and mutual empowerment.
No band comes together without a relatable, effective conductor. In all MCPS Honors Bands and Orchestras, seasoned, acclaimed conductors took the floor and unleashed the musician’s sound and sense to produce coherent, harmonious songs. All conductors have served or currently serve as instrumental music teachers in MCPS schools; in addition, many of them have won prestigious accolades for conducting or commanding large youth-performing troupes such as the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras.
“The best part of the experience was definitely made possible by the conductor,” says Calvin, a former violist in the Junior Honors Orchestra who performed under the direction of Jennifer Van Petten. “She makes practicing a measure over and over again not tedious, and we learn to really help each other and work together because we know that the orchestra will only be as good as the least proficient player.”
Participating students also receive guidance from other professional musicians during section rehearsals.
“At times I feel as if I’m being monitored and judged constantly,” says Rachel, a violin player in this year’s programs. “But the fact that everyone is so confident rather than being obscure about pointing out something incorrect, whether it’s a wrong bowing or a missed dynamic change, really helped me grow as a musician.”
To be eligible for the mandatory audition to join these bands, students first must be enrolled in an instrumental music class. Students’ music teachers will generally pass out audition information in the fall season around mid-October. Audition requirements generally consist of playing two-octave scales, orchestra excerpts, and a short sight reading.
The MCPS Junior Honors Band and Orchestra consists of students in grades 7, 8, and 9. Their auditions are in early November and the first concert of the year was February 6. The MCPS Seniors Band and Orchestra consists of students in grades 10-12. Sixth graders may participate in regional orchestras also sponsored by MCPS to prepare for auditions in the coming years.
“I’m always glad to see my students auditioning,” says John Cowan, conductor of Julius West Middle School’s band and orchestra. “Whether they get in or not, I always encourage them to explore these opportunities outside the classroom. Even if their audition became a total train-wreck, they would’ve gotten some experience and I’ve confidence that it’ll help them in future events.”
Article by Amanda Chu, MoCo Student staff writer