The Midwest Journey: Enjoying the Peaks and Valleys
by David McGrath, Director, Carlton J. Kell High School Wind Symphony
The Midwest Clinic has been an inspiration to me as a music educator for over twenty years. That having been said, I never believed that I had the ability to take a group to this prestigious event, and therefore had never considered submitting an application. After much “arm-twisting” by some of my closest colleagues, I decided that it couldn’t hurt to at least submit an application, especially since it was highly “unlikely” that we would actually receive an invitation to perform!
When I received the official invitation (on April 1st…I was convinced that this was a cruel joke) to perform, the anxiety (and excitement) immediately took hold! That lasted for about two or three weeks. During this time, I described to everyone that I was 51% excited, and 49% terrified. (In reality, the balance was probably tilted a bit more heavily in the other direction!)
When we received our first box of scores and recordings from a publisher, the overwhelming task of selecting a program began. While I spent many late nights at the school listening to recordings and narrowing down the choices over the next two months, I would not really call it “work.” It was so exciting to be exposed to all of the new literature! The task of selecting a program to share with my musical colleagues was daunting, but the process of putting together numerous “play-lists,” and then living with that CD for a week or two before revising, was actually very invigorating!
Together with my closest colleagues (David Roth, Freddy Martin, and Gary Markham), after about two months of intense listening, we eventually settled on a program that we believed would fulfill two very important criteria: the program fulfilled all of the requirements set forth by the Midwest Board of Directors (there are MANY), and the concert would be an engaging journey for the audience (which was extremely important to us). I have received many letters and e-mails that mention the programming, and how well the concert flowed. That feedback has made the hundreds of hours spent listening and planning in the first few months well worth the effort!
Our students were given folders that contained seven of the eleven pieces which we programmed on the last day of school. We listened to a CD of each piece, after which I gave them specific goals and instructions on how they should practice and prepare the pieces over the summer. The main goal was to keep them practicing over the summer, so that we did not have to recover their sound over the first couple of months. They were given realistic tempos at which all of the notes and rhythms must be prepared by the first day of class in the fall. They absolutely lived up to the challenges that were posed, and when we returned in a couple of months it was as if we had been rehearsing all summer.
This brings me to one of the most important points, which is the fact that your program will absolutely be elevated by pursuing the endeavor of performing at The Midwest Clinic. The students will rise to the challenges, and the parents and community will have a better understanding and appreciation for what your program offers kids!
I must admit that one of the reasons I had never submitted an application to perform was that I did not believe I would be able to handle the pressures of preparing for, and performing at, this event in a healthy way. What I did not realize was the fact that this experience does so much for your community, and more importantly, your students! It is best described as a surreal kind of “roller coaster” ride. Once you are strapped in and begin the journey, there is no getting off, and you just hang on and enjoy the many peaks and valleys! I was committed to making this a healthy experience for the kids, and the unexpected benefit of that was that I actually had more “fun” preparing for this event than I have had in twenty-three years of teaching! I expected to be terrified on stage, but I actually felt excited. My students have all told me that they have never had so much fun on stage, and that I smiled more than they have ever seen in a performance. I honestly believe that I will have a different perspective on stage for the rest of my career, and that I will try to recapture that feeling every time we perform. What our students and conductors shared on stage was the most special experience imaginable, and there has been no let down. The kids came back in January committed to maintaining the performance standard that we have established!
My closing thoughts are simple. Someone recently asked me if I would do it again, knowing what I do now. My response was an immediate “in a heart-beat!” I encourage you to consider applying, if you feel that your program is remotely close to being ready. Don’t let your anxieties prevent you from embarking on an amazing journey, that will absolutely elevate your program, and be a memory that your students and community will cherish for a lifetime! I will forever be grateful for this very special experience, and the trust that the Midwest Board of Directors placed in our program. It was so humbling, and I sincerely hope that our performance was enjoyed by the audience with whom we shared our heartfelt musical efforts!
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