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Performer First Reactions

Congratulations to all the performers! Here, we share some of their first reactions and continued thoughts to being invited to appear at The Midwest Clinic.

Enjoy the journey!

Author: Joshua Thompson,

It has been a lot of fun for our directors and students preparing to perform at this year's Midwest Clinic! Right before our Thanksgiving break, we had three truly fantastic clinicians work with us to help us start to put the finishing touches on our music.

Our first clinician was Dr. Clif Evans from the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Evans and I go back quite a few years as when I taught in Plano, Texas, I brought him in annually to work with my students. He is the rare combination of a true maestro and master teacher, who can both conduct and teach from the podium. We focused on our opening piece for our performance at Midwest: Dvorak’s Carnival Overture. Clif helped our students better understand the balance schemes in Dvorak’s music, as many times in his music the orchestration makes things a challenge, especially for younger groups. It is oftentimes a struggle for our very large orchestra to play with the clarity that is so important in this work, and his recommendations proved to be exactly the feedback we needed to work towards that final product.

Two rehearsals later, we were fortunate enough to have Jeffrey Grogan from Oklahoma City University work with us. I have known Mr. Grogan for a long time and find him one of the most inspirational conductors I have ever met. Our clinic with Jeff was sponsored by our tour company, Perform America, and was live-streamed on their Facebook page! (And it made the students be on their best behavior knowing they were being filmed!) As expected, Jeff worked his magic on the focus of that rehearsal: the final movement of Michael Daugherty’s American Gothic. Since the orchestra was handling the challenging technical aspects of the piece, Jeff was able to tackle the musical elements of the composition. Additionally, it was very cool for our students to work with a conductor who personally knows the composer whose work we are performing!

In our next rehearsal, Gary Lewis, Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder was in Austin to work with us. Mr. Lewis will also be our guest conductor at the Midwest Clinic. Gary has been to Westwood the past two years to do rehearsal clinics with our Symphony Orchestra, however, we are all very excited for him to actually conduct the orchestra in rehearsal and our upcoming performances. Gary will be conducting the orchestral premiere of John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes, orchestrated by Craig B. Davis. This rehearsal was fun for me personally to just sit back and watch my students grow tremendously in the space of a single 90-minute rehearsal. If you have never watched Gary work, it is very inspiring to watch a conductor develop a genuine rapport with an orchestra in such a short amount of time. Our students were buzzing with excitement after the rehearsal!

We are deeply honored and extremely thankful to have had three tremendous musicians work with our students in the span of 6 days. We talked early on in the process of doing our best to “enjoy the journey” to performing at Midwest, and I know those three rehearsals were enjoyable for students and directors alike!


Author: Ralph Hicks,

When I first received the message that our group had been selected I was, of course, thrilled and ecstatic! I informed the students the next morning and, trying not to give away my excitement, I tried to tell them in a round about way where they would have to think about what I was saying...well, that didn't exactly work out how I wanted to (okay, it was pretty lame) BUT, when they figured out what I was saying, they, too, were thrilled and ecstatic!
These kids are a bunch of highly motivated and hard working kids that have pushed themselves year in, year out. I am so proud of them and this affirms what I already knew, this is a special group of kids. We are all looking forward to putting together a fun and exciting program for the Midwest audience and very excited to get up to Chicago.
After the excitement settled down, it hit me...I remembered the work it took to put it all together in 2010 when our group performed at the 2010 Midwest Clinic. What really reminded me about all of the hard work was my wife saying, "I guess you'll be busy and stressed again?" But it was worth it in 2010, and, since I've gone through it before I hope to not make the same mistakes again.
The summer director's meeting was very informative and puts everything into perspective when meeting directors of the other performing groups and members of the Midwest board. What a great collection of groups performing at this years Midwest Clinic. It should be a blast.
Now, I'm still excited and thrilled...and somewhat nervous knowing that the next 4 months will go by quicker than expected!

Excited for Midwest

Author: Christopher Banks,

Hello all!

It is an honor to join everyone else this year at Midwest! This coming year will also be our school's 20th Anniversary! What a way to celebrate.

5/14/19 - The recording, the wait, the e-mail, and UIL

Author: Jarrett Lipman,

We are so thrilled to have a received an invitation to perform at The Midwest Clinic. On March 7th, we performed "Roman Carnival Overture" and "Rolling Thunder" on a concert for our parents, families, and friends. This was our second year to apply to perform at Midwest and we learned a lot through the preparation in 2018 that helped working on this submission feel more comfortable. As we finished the first section of the Roman Carnival I remember thinking "Wow! Our English horn soloist had about his best run of this ever," and so many things were going well that I started to get nervous as we went through the next section that the take might not finish as strong as it started. Looking at the kids, I kept focusing on the music - and enjoying watching and listening to them perform as we had practiced. I try not to let my mind analyze the performance as we go through it, but this is still a challenge for me.

The kids continued to play so well - and I think we were all relaxing a bit the longer it went. Then, we hit a small snag - the kids recovered quickly, but I almost stopped. I remember thinking “Don’t stop, finish ….let this one go…” and we played through the end and the kids played the remainder of the piece as strong as the beginning. Listening to the “snag” after we were done - it was barely noticeable. In the moment, it felt so much worse - and probably could’ve affected the rest of the recording that we submitted, and that we are all so proud of. For me, the lesson re-affirmed - focus on the music and don’t overreact to little things even if they feel big in performance.

Those who have submitted and waited - either for acceptance or rejection - know the anticipation of seeing the e-mail come in. Other band directors from around the state were texting days before results came out “Have you gotten anything yet?” “Have you heard anything yet?” Daily, I would check the submission just to make sure what we had turned in actually was correct - and been received. I am someone who worries about issues with the recording - or something going wrong with the system. And I guess what I tried to do most this year - other than my daily check on the application - was ignore it and focus on something else. In 2018, I felt like the anxiety of waiting was as consuming as waiting to see if I’d been accepted to college. I realize “it’s just band” …. but again, is it really when you’re passionate about what you do? Daily, I would reflect on our process, and my mentors Mr. Bennett and Dr. Rhea would say “Whether you’re in or not, it’s your best band, and you should be proud of what your kids did.” This year was easier to wait though I was still anxious.

Finally - the e-mail came in, on the day before our Wind Ensemble was to perform at UIL contest. I looked, and saw we had been accepted. While our second band was warming up, Mr. Sharps - who co-conducts the Wind Ensemble with me - and I had a moment together in the hall we both hugged and cried almost in disbelief that we’d been accepted. We have had several of those moments together since CTJ opened in 2008, and it felt amazing to share another one with my friend and partner before he retires in the coming years. When we shared with our students later that day - there was a mix of joy, relief, pride, and so much energy and excitement.

It really showed up on the day of UIL. Normally - the kids are bubbling on UIL day and on the outside I try to be. Inside - I am hoping that everything goes as we have practiced and wanting the experience to be as positive as an evaluative performance can be. This day - everyone was relaxed and excited to perform knowing the news we’d received less than 24 hours earlier. In many ways it felt like the evaluation was over. Deep down, we all know the focus should always be on the music. The evaluation sometimes makes that challenging. The 25 minutes on stage with our students flew by faster than any performance I can ever remember. They were so calm and confident performing - and we were having so much fun. The last two minutes of Roman Carnival were probably about as animated and exciting as anything I’ve been a part of with our ensemble - and their performance of Rolling Thunder after had the crowd on their feet before the performance was over. We were the last group of the day, and actually had a reasonable number of parents and other directors coming to see the band perform. It was truly a magical moment. All of the work and effort for this spring - and over the years towards the goal seemed to capitulate in that performance. I will never forget it - the news of getting in, and sharing that with Alan and the kids.

Everyone who I’ve spoken to who has performed at Midwest has offered the advice “enjoy every minute and every step of the process.” We are certainly going to do that.

Our Midwest Announcement!

Author: Amy Krueger,

We were so happy to get the invitation to perform at The Midwest Clinic! I sent the news via email, so our responses are a little lackluster, but I did make an announcement video to share with our fans on Facebook and YouTube. You can see the video at the following link:

Discussions about programming are in the works!

First Reaction


Our college ensemble consists of students from all over the country, not just students who grew up in our music school. They were elated when they received the text that their group was invited to perform!

Finding out we were accepted

Author: Renee Todd,