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Sandy Journal

Indian Hills Middle band, orchestra take to the state festival stage—just before COVID-19 outbreak

Jul 13, 2020 01:08PM ● By Julie Slama

For four years in a row, Indian Hills Middle School band has performed at the state band festival; this year, it was the day before school buildings closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Robin Johnson Photography)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Just days before school buildings closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian Hills Middle School orchestra and band took the stage at the state orchestra festival on the University of Utah campus.

The groups were one of 30 bands and 24 orchestras invited to perform at the adjudicated festival.

“Our main reason for performing at the state festival is to get the feedback, to push ourselves to become better musicians,” Indian Hills Instrumental Director Brian Cox said. “There are high expectations and we’re not about beating someone, but rather being the best we can be.”

It is Indian Hills fourth year in a row that the band has been invited to perform and the first year for the orchestra to be invited to the elite sweepstakes, or top 12 orchestras.

“We spent a lot of time preparing pieces, reviewing fundamentals, recording and listening to how we were playing,” Cox said. “The kids were able to hear the difference of how they thought they were playing to how they were. It was a good wake-up call. They really worked hard.”

In early March, just a week before the state festival, Canyons School District held its orchestra festival, which helped prepare the group with last-minute feedback, Cox said.

“You can use some things to make changes. You can’t change fundamentals, but you can change the balance or length of notes,” he said.

Dressed in concert black, the orchestra jumped on the school bus to take them to the festival.

“The kids were excited since they hadn’t been there before. It’s a really cool, neat venue. They loved it and were able to say they made it to state,” he said.

The group was the first performance of the day, so they used the stage to warm up. Then, when it was time, they performed “Toccatina” by William Hofeldt, “Variation on a Well-Known Sea Chantey” by Richard Stephan; and “Ancient Ritual” by Elliot Del Borgo in addition to the provided 16 measures of “Chorale Prelude 10” by Johannes Brahms.

“They did fabulous and it was so much fun,” Cox said. 

The group also got to sight-read for a nationally known guest clinician. Cox said the orchestra prepared as much as they could, often going through several new pieces each week. The group also received feedback on their performance.

Two days later, Cox returned to the state festival with his band.

“The group was happy to get to go and put pressure on themselves to keep the tradition going of performing there,” he said. “The group was motivated to perform better than they ever have at the festival and really pushed themselves.”

At the festival, Cox said the group was both nervous and excited, but played their pieces, “Knights of Destiny,” by Michael Sweeney, “Amen!” by Frank Ticheli and “Rhythms and Riffs” by Brian Balmages in addition to the provided measures of the “Chester” chorale.

“They did a great job. I was very happy with how they played. They’re mostly seventh-graders with one year of experience playing alongside ninth-graders who have more experience. We got some great feedback which we can build on to get better year after year,” he said.

The band had planned to perform in the Canyons band festival, but unfortunately, as it was scheduled for late March, the festival was canceled.

“We are able to use what we learned to help us improve ourselves, as musicians, and for me, as a teacher,” Cox said.” We’re always talking about improving and gaining more skills so this is one way we can do that. Even if we didn’t get into state, the process of pushing ourselves is worth it. We wouldn’t regret the process if we didn’t make it because that is how growth is obtained.”