Music festivals a time for fun, and learning

Performance: Howard County middle and high schools take part in eight weeks of adjudicated madrigal, orchestra, band and choral festivals.

March 20, 2003|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine prom night - circa 1600. The girls are dressed in Renaissance-style gowns of blue, red and gold velvet. The boys are in tunics, tights and feathered velvet caps. Their costumes may look like something out of Romeo and Juliet, but they help set the tone at a madrigals performance.

Eight county high schools attended a madrigals festival at Wilde Lake High's Rouse Theatre this month. It kicked off an eight-week season of adjudicated music festivals for Howard County middle and high school groups.

Daniel Ji, 18, has been in the River Hill High madrigals for four years. While it takes time for the boys to get used to their costumes, he said, "the girls really like their madrigals costumes because they look like princesses."


Students must audition for madrigals, during which about 18 to 25 singers perform Renaissance a cappella music.

In addition to the madrigals festival, music festivals are scheduled for orchestras, middle and high school choral groups and middle and high school bands.

Rob White, music facilitator for the county schools' Office of Advanced Programs and Fine Arts, said no awards are given because these are not competitions.

However, professional adjudicators respond to the performances. Groups are rated against a standard "of musicianship, not against each other," he said.

White, who has worked in the school district for 25 years, said the festivals have been part of the music program "ever since formal music programs have been in place."

Madrigals are unique because they are the only festival in which there is a single judge, Tony Leach of Penn State University. While each group performed, he recorded and wrote comments. Then Leach climbed on stage with the students and coached them through on-the-spot improvements.

"We try to get different folks every year," White said. "Yet when we find folks who are good with students and who are enthusiastic, we like to have them back."

Leach's critiques were pointed but encouraging. When Glenelg High's group performed "Sing a Song of Sixpence," he said, "I love it when it's obvious to me that ... you love `Sixpence.'" But he pointed out that the students were so excited about the piece, they had not been singing as softly as the score required.

The next music festival is scheduled for tomorrow and Saturday, when more than two dozen school orchestras will meet at Reservoir High.

"The students here like the fact that we're hosting," said Colin O'Bryan, the school's orchestra director. "These students will be the ones running things and working the registration tables, acting as guides to the other schools."

Also this month, Glenelg High will be host of concert bands for three days at its fine arts addition. "The finishing touches are being put on it," said Barry Enzman, director of bands at Glenelg. "We'll be using it really for the first time during this festival."

In addition to performing music that they have worked on throughout the year, the orchestras and bands must do a sight-reading.

"It shows how kids and teachers think on their feet. ... Each group has the opportunity to show how well they interpret the music and perform it the first time," White said.

Each festival is an important aspect of music education, White said, because "it provides students and teachers an opportunity to get feedback from professional experts in the field that are coming at it with an objective set of ears. Generally, teachers like it because it ... re- inforces what's going on in the classroom."

Ji agreed. "We get criticism from our director every single day," he said. "Getting a third point of view - even if it's the same thing - it's kind of refreshing."

Many of the groups advance to district, state and national competitions. To help them prepare, and to help every group improve, White's office hired a recording company to make compact discs of the performances so the students can assess themselves.

"We had nothing but positive feedback from teachers," White said. At the madrigals festival, "the kids went out with a smile on their face. They worked hard, they had fun, but they learned something, as well."

Festival schedule

Tomorrow and Saturday: District VIII Orchestra Festival at Reservoir High

March 25-26: Middle School Choral Festival at Long Reach High

March 27-29: District VIII Band Festival at Glenelg High

April 8-9: Concert Choir Festival at Howard High

April 24-26: Middle School Band Nights at Howard High

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