Challenge and talent converge

Top student musicians meet today in Baltimore for a state music educators conference

February 23, 2007|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,special to the sun

David Young is the only bassoonist in his high school orchestra. But this weekend, the River Hill High School junior will no longer be playing solo when he joins the Maryland All State Senior Orchestra.

"It's a really neat experience to be in a group of other, extremely talented musicians where you can play some really, really challenging music," Young said.

Top student musicians from around the state will meet for the first time in Baltimore today as part of the Maryland Music Educators Association annual conference. After many hours of intense rehearsals, they will perform at Morgan State University tomorrow night and Sunday.

"The experience of making excellent music with other musicians that are committed and equally talented ... puts it at a different level," said Mary Ellen Cohn, MMEA's executive director.

The MMEA conference runs today and tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Each November, musicians audition for two All State levels - junior (grades seven through nine) and senior (grades 10 through 12). There are seven All State groups, including bands, orchestras and choruses. This year, 7,000 students auditioned for 939 spots. More than 200 Howard County children made the cut. They represent all 12 Howard County high schools and 13 middle schools.

"It's extremely competitive," said Rosemary Lather, orchestra director at River Hill and Marriotts Ridge high schools. "Nobody goes in there that cannot play. You have to be exceptional."

Lather and M. Joseph Fischer, director of bands at River Hill High, prepare students by holding mock auditions during class. "Even kids who aren't auditioning really get behind that and are supportive of the kids" who are trying out, Fischer said.

To match the high level of musicianship, MMEA brings in nationally known conductors and music professors to work with students. Lather, who also leads Howard County's GT [Gifted and Talented] Middle School Orchestra, had 16 middle-schoolers accepted to Junior All State.

The GT Middle School Orchestra will be a demonstration group for an MMEA conference seminar.

Yesterday, River Hill's Wind Ensemble and Jazz Ensemble rehearsed with guest clinician Vince Corozine, director of music industry studies at Elizabeth City (N.C.) State University. MMEA chose both ensembles to perform as demonstration groups during today's conference seminars.

Working with a visiting teacher not only "helps you both broaden your horizons through conducting styles, but also different interpretations of music," said tuba player Sam Baronowsky. The River Hill High sophomore is a four-time All State selection.

"It's interesting to go and do the exact same piece with a different director and see how they interpret the part," he said.

Said Fischer: "The directors that come in and conduct the All State groups ... are just consummate professionals in their field."

The senior orchestra will be led by Andrew Constantine, associate conductor for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. "That's an experience that's second to none that you can't get in your high school program," Fischer said.

Because they meet their fellow musicians and their conductor for the first time today, the performers do not have a lot of time to practice together. They will rehearse twice today, at least three times tomorrow, and Sunday if their concert is later that day.

"It takes a lot of determination from the entire orchestra because you have to perfect an entire concert in just three days," said Mount View eighth-grader Brian Kim, a member of the GT orchestra and the concertmaster for the 2006 All State Junior Orchestra.

Added Baronowsky: "You're practicing 20 plus hours over 2 1/2 days. It helps your playing skills because it teaches you how to not over play, how to conserve yourself" for the concert.

But, Young said, "Everyone doesn't really mind. Because it's challenging, it's a lot more fun and you don't ever really get bored with it."

Young added, "Over a short period of time, you go from not knowing any of the people ... to at the end you're able to perform with one of the better-sounding groups you've ever performed in."

He said that he enjoys participating in the transformation "to a group that's really able to perform music close to professional quality."

That sense of achievement will follow All State musicians back to school Monday. Fischer said, "The more experiences my top kids get, the more they bring back and push the other [musicians] to grow and develop."

All State performances at Morgan State University's Carl J. Murphy Fine Arts Center will be held tomorrow and Sunday. The junior band will perform at 6 p.m. tomorrow. On Sunday, the senior band is to perform at 1 p.m., the senior orchestra at 2:30 p.m., the senior mixed chorus at 4 p.m. and the senior women's chorus at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 at the door (instrumental and choral concerts are separate). Information: www.mmea maryland.org.

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