Not growing up in high school band culture, I wasn’t quite sure what a morning at my ninth grade son’s band evaluation would entail. This morning was the annual band festival or LGPE (large group performance evaluation). A great deal of dedication goes into preparing a band like this to perform and reach a top score at LGPE, the band equivalent of a city-wide soccer tournament or a regional mock trial competition. LGPE is big stuff in the band world. My son tells me that a high school concert band strives to score a # 1 or # 2 in the evaluation, with one being the highest. Attending the LGPE was a real eye opener for me and I’m going to share some amazing highlights.
First of all, these band competitions get going early. I was up at 6:15 this morning and fairly dysfunctional until I had a gas station cup of coffee at 6:50 am. By 7:05, having only taken three sips, I dropped my young trombonist at the school where a bus was waiting to transport 60 + band members across town to a concert hall.
An hour and a half later, the musicians were warming up on stage. I’d finished my coffee by now so I remembered my camera, but forgot my glasses. The band members, decked in formal black tie attire, looked the part of a professional symphony orchestra, only slightly younger! The sound was checked and a last minute kid came on stage with a chair. “He overslept the alarm,” I heard someone say. Once rehearsed and situated, they played three impressive pieces: “America Forever,” Alligator Alley,” and “Dies Irae” by Verdi.
Now, as soon as the formal competition was complete, the musicians fled the stage, hauling their heavy instruments and percussion pieces across the school yard to a smaller choral room. This room was the location of the Sight Reading Competition. I was able to snap a quick photo of this very brief transition from stage to choral classroom. No one took a bathroom break and not much conversation occurred in the interim. These students were laser focused on their next task. All were attentive as folders were passed and placed on each music stand.
A judge came to the front of the room.
“Once you open your folder, you will see a new piece of music, one that you have never played and which you will be required to sight read and perform in exactly 6 minutes. Your director will prepare you and you are not allowed to play your instruments until the starting time,” the judge stated.
At that, the director, Mr. Flood immediately began to prepare the students: “Now clarinets, look out for the change in key signatures and trombones, watch out for the technical eighth notes at measure 25.” He gave more instructions to the percussion, the low brass and the flutes. Then, the judge said, “30 seconds.” And the band did a soundless rehearsal, or a “sizzle” where they blew the notes and time into their instruments without making a single sound. It was riveting.
“Time,” said the judge.
With that… they began. The song was called, Chronicles of … I didn’t have enough coffee to take in that second word. But, the band was amazing. They had never seen or played the piece before and it sounded absolutely perfect.
Lots of parent applause!
When the applause was finished, the judge came back to the front of the room and said, “That was outstanding. You have quite a balanced ensemble.”
A couple of announcements were made and everyone jumped up and went out the door. I was able to take a couple of group shots outside and then the bus whisked them all away to breakfast. And all of this before 9:45 am!
This was truly and eye opening experience.