This piece of writing was written for my band director, who, after our Midwest trip, requested that we write about it, in order to convince the school board / administrators that fine arts makes a difference. Here it is reproduced exactly as it was written..
Among all of the experiences I’ve had in high school band, traveling to and performing at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra clinic ranks among the top, if not as the top of them. It has brought me closer to my peers and my directors and has re-inspired my love for the art of music and ensemble performance.
Looking back at the beginning in May, we were not immediately aware of the magnitude of the feat we had just achieved. When Mr. Christian announced our placement in the spring of last year, the reaction from the band was lukewarm at best. There was murmurs of both happiness from the juniors for being able to attend again and sadness from the seniors for not being able perform. Our preparation remained mainly secondary to marching band – we only rehearsed every Monday of the football season. As the transition to concert band began, we still were not fully aware of the task that loomed before us. Thousands of reputable educators and musicians would be watching us live in less than a month. This lack of awareness slowly turned into a minor form of panic. Around Thanksgiving, the general vibe in the air buzzed with phrases such as “We’re not prepared”, “We leave in a month and we still haven’t gotten all our pieces”, and “How can we get all these pieces prepared?” Some of us were ready to give up. However, I wouldn’t have given that process up for any other. There aren’t many ways to prepare a long 11-piece program, except for continuous and patient work day after day, adapting calmly and rapidly to change. As the day continued to approach, our apprehension slowly gave away to confidence as everything began falling into place, seemingly of its own accord. We could make it through our most difficult pieces without stopping. Then we could play it comfortably. Then we could play it musically. Then we became confident doing so. Our growth accelerated to its maximum before the send-off concert. To bands that will go to Chicago: Keep walking and stay flexible. The path is long, and full of distractions, but somehow, it will straighten out, and the home stretch towards the finish line will be so rewarding.
(3) Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral was our “flagship” piece, the one that everyone coming to the concert would want to hear. It was highly challenging yet rewarding piece to learn and perform. Surprisingly, however, it was not my favorite piece. My favorite piece was “Grace Before Sleep” by Susan LaBarr and J. Eric Wilson. It originated from a grace, or prayer of thanks spoken before going to bed, that was written by Sarah Teasdale. It appealed heavily to me because, as a senior, I strove this last year to feel thankful for all the gifts I had been blessed with for the past four: an incredible band program, amazing friends, and a supportive family. The piece was relatively simple, yet we played it with such sonority and blend that I fell in love with it the very first time we rehearsed it. One of my most memorable moments at the trip was the last rehearsal on Thursday evening. It was nearing 10:00 PM, and everyone was tired, anxious to finish, get home to the hotel, and get to bed. Mr. Christian announced, “Before we go, one more thing – Get up Grace Before Sleep.” We were about to give a literal grace before we slept the night before our big day. The room’s atmosphere settled and calmed as we ran straight through the piece without stopping. After the final chord, Mr. Christian lowered his arms and said, “Sleep tight…” My mind flashed through all of my memories from this semester, the struggle we faced preparing, the wonderful friends I had by my side, and how lucky we were to have, as the hymn said, “Spent / In this generous room/ An evening of content.” Before I knew it, tears were dropping from my eyes. I was surprised at myself, too. Never before had I cried from any high school band experience. My love for music and ensemble music performance burned even brighter from then on.
(6) The next day was the concert. Rows upon rows of chairs were lined up in a ballroom facing a temporary performance stage. Only later did we find out that there were around 1800 chairs in the room. The doors opened and people flooded in, more people than I had ever seen attend a concert given by this “random” high school from Cedar Park, Texas. The room filled to the brim with composers and educators, famous and ordinary. This, many of us would admit, scared us a little. At home, we were always performing for parents and friends, people who would always support our work. Here, judgment was passed even at first glance. Scrutiny of the highest meticulousness was upon us. However, they were generous in praise and enthusiastic in applause – the standing ovation we received for Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral lasted well over a minute. This helped me realize, even more so, that we deserved our title, that our band was actually as good as people said we were. Often we are so caught up in tiny flaws in our work that we fail to appreciate the praise others give us – they may not even be aware of those flaws!
(8) As one of my colleagues once said, “Band didn’t change my life. People changed my life.” Alone, the Midwest experience would have had a mediocre impact at best in my personal life. Flying up to a large, confusing city to play a few notes? Who would do that? But surrounded by your friends and teachers, by people who want to see YOU succeed elevates the impact of the experience many-fold. I remember sitting in the Thursday morning rehearsal, looking around and seeing so many well-known directors, educators, and composers. It was surreal that they knew and rooted for our team of musicians. If Midwest has taught me one thing, it has reminded me of the value of teamwork and ensemble. It doesn’t matter if one is “in tune”, they have to match heartbeats, match souls at that very moment with their teammates to bring out the best of the whole group.