“A snowball of positive energy that gained intensity from beginning to end!” That’s how Mason High School Band Director Micah Ewing described the Wind Symphony’s performance at the prestigious Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Festival on December 15, 2016.
Held annually in Chicago since its inception in 1946, the Midwest Clinic is the world's largest instrumental music education conference. The clinic boasts over 17,000 attendees each year, representing all 50 states and nearly 40 countries. In April, Mason’s Wind Symphony received its invitation as one of only four high schools to perform at this year’s Clinic, and directors immediately began preparations for the performance.
The first priority was determining the program for the concert. “The main objectives of the Clinic are to inform and inspire its attendees,” explained Ewing. “To that end, there are some very specific guidelines that govern the music we choose to play at the Clinic.” For Ewing, a primary consideration was ensuring that the music would be meaningful to the students and used as a vehicle to achieve curricular goals.
Along with program decisions, Ewing mapped out a rehearsal schedule that began in August and culminated with the performance in December. A priority in this rehearsal plan and the repertoire selection was providing opportunities for the students to work with as many composers of the pieces they were playing as possible. “When students have the opportunity to work with composers,” Ewing shared, “they are able to engage in the connection between the music, the person who wrote it, and themselves as the performers who bring the composers’ ideas into sound.”
Composers Roger Zare, James Swearingen, John Mackey, David Maslanka, and Frank Ticheli visited Mason's campus in the months leading up to the concert or met with the band in Chicago. These composers worked with not only the Wind Symphony, but also with some of Mason's other concert bands. Ewing believes that these interactions helped students capture the spirit of each of the pieces and the personalities of the composers in the music they played.
In December, rehearsals intensified in length and frequency to help build the stamina necessary for a concert over an hour in length. Preparation culminated in a weekend band camp and Midwest preview concert with one of Mason Band’s long time mentors, James Keene, Director of Band Emeritus at the University of Illinois, and a shared concert with the Miami University Wind Ensemble in Hall Auditorium on Miami’s campus. According to Ewing, “It was a long, but very fulfilling process of preparation and realization for the students, teachers, and even the composers.”
The Midwest concert on December 15 included a total of ten pieces conducted by Ewing, guest conductor Keene, Mason High School band directors Avious Jackson and Jason Sleppy, and Mason Middle School band director Susan Bass. “I think this concert was an authentic representation of who we are collectively as a band program: students, parents, and teachers,” shared Ewing. “We have students who are amazing in myriad ways, and an incredibly talented team of teachers from grades 6 though 12 who are absolutely committed to giving our students the best opportunities to express artistic musicianship at the highest level possible for each student.”
Ewing said that, in addition to the concert, a highlight of the Midwest experience was the trip to Chicago itself. “Seeing our students together out in the world brings into focus what wonderful people they are,” said Ewing. “They hold themselves to the highest standards in every imaginable way, presenting themselves as professionals and gracious human beings whether they are playing music or interacting with Clinic attendees.”
For Ewing, a conversation with a stranger after Mason’s concert best captured the experience of preparing for and performing at the Midwest Clinic. “He said he'd been teaching for a lot of years and attended the Midwest Clinic many times. He said that he comes to Midwest to be motivated and inspired and that our concert inspired him,” Ewing shared. “Not only was this a great experience for our students, but our students impacted other teachers who in turn will pass that inspiration on to other students. Our students can have pride in the knowledge that they made a difference in the lives of many teachers and in the music making of countless students as a result.”