Christmas came early for the T.A. Howard Middle School and Summit High School bands. And their gifts weren’t delivered by a jolly elf in a sleigh, but by emails to their band directors.
Earlier this month, both bands received an invitation to The Midwest Clinic Band, Orchestra and Music Convention in Chicago in December, the world’s largest music education conference. Bands in the Mansfield school district have applied to perform at the conference before, but no school in the district had ever received an invitation. At least not until this year.
“It’s a really big deal to have two groups invited,” said Russell Sanders, the school district’s director of fine arts. “Only six high school bands perform from around the world, and four bands from middle schools. This is a tremendous recognition of all the hard work they have put in.”
Both band directors knew their orchestras were good, but say they thought an appearance at The Midwest Clinic was a few years away.
“I thought it was a way to get our name out there and get the kids used to the audition process,” said Chris Kanicki, Summit’s head band director. “Most people submit for years. To get it the first time you submit is rare.”
Just applying for The Midwest Clinic is a major undertaking. Bands submit recordings of two performances - a march and another piece of music. The Howard band performed “Army of the Nile” by Alford and “Colonial Airs and Dances” by Jager, while Summit submitted performances of “The Gallant Seventh,” a Sousa traditional march, and “Requiem from Symphonic Suite” by Verdi, a 25-minute orchestral transcription that was originally written for a full string orchestra.
Howard and Summit will each do a 45-minute performance at the convention, Kanicki said.
“Composers, music vendors, travel agencies, anyone who does anything with band will be there and we get to play for them, which is incredibly intimidating,” Kanicki said.
Summit band members will be double duty this fall as they prepare for The Midwest Clinic in December, UIL competition and marching season. The band will practice over the summer to get ready for the Chicago convention, Kanicki said.
Sixty-five students from Summit and 65 from Howard, plus seven band instructors and lots of chaperones will be making the trip to Chicago from Dec. 20-23. The school district is helping with airfare, hotels and bus transportation in Chicago, but the bands will hold fund-raisers to help pay for food and other expenses.
“Next year’s band will actually be the one that performs,” Kanicki pointed out. “If you make the top band as a freshman, you will have a lot to live up to.”
Eighth-grade band members at Howard will have to make the top band at Summit in order to make the trip, pointed out Nathaniel Neugent, Howard’s band director. He will send more than 30 eighth-graders to Summit, but only five to 10 could make the top band.
Even band members who do not get to make the trip will benefit, the band directors say.
“Composers will send us music that hasn’t been published, and clinicians will want to work with us,” Kanicki said.
Since the convention is in December, this year’s seniors will not perform, which is bittersweet, admits Isaiah Blackmon, a senior French horn player.
“(Kanicki) has taught us that everything you do represents you,” Blackmon said. “What you do reflects on you. Working hard makes you better in the end. We’re not going to be here, but we’re going to leave something good behind.”
Blackmon and some of his band buddies plan to take a train to Chicago to watch Summit’s performance, he said.
Greg Goode, a junior trumpet player, says the band members know they’re going to have to work hard next fall.
“When you put in those hours of hard work, I can’t tell you how good it feels,” he said. “You can feel the energy vibrating around you.”