McKINNEY, Texas – Solos performed on the alto flute and the recorder don’t often attract the spotlight among a lot of high school bands. But, in the case of the McKinney North High School Symphonic Band, those two instruments were featured in an award-winning performance that has received state recognition from the Foundation for Music Education.
The foundation awarded the group a Citation of Excellence Award for their performance on that piece—“The Journey of Yan Si Meng” by composer Gabriel Musella—and another selection called “Blue and Green Music” by Samuel Hazo.
The Citation of Excellence is a competition for Texas non-varsity bands in which the top 25 percent are selected as Citation Winners and the second 25 percent are selected as Commended Winners. For 2016, the performances were judged by Dr. Kevin Sedatole, director of bands at Michigan State University.
“The performance of this band represents the very highest level of music teaching and learning in the state of Texas,” Foundation for Music Education Managing Director Rick Yancey said in the announcement letter from the foundation.
North senior Lily Wilson performed the alto flute solo on “The Journey of Yan Si Meng” last spring when the performance was recorded and submitted for review, and she was understandably pleased with the outcome.
“The alto flute solo in [that] piece was almost a duet between the recorder and all of these other solo instruments,” Lily said, “and to know that the piece that I had quite a big solo in actually got featured and received an award made me feel really good.”
That was a sentiment shared by the entire group—for whom this accolade was actually something of a pleasant surprise.
“They didn’t know,” said North Assistant Band Director Josh Kurzweil, who has invested 14 years in North’s band program. “I sat them down and said, ‘I signed you up for this…’ It was very much an after the fact type of process in which I submitted our UIL competition recordings. They were delighted. They were thrilled.”
This marks just the second year that the Foundation for Music Education has awarded the Citation of Excellence, the highest recognition they grant to non-varsity bands.
McKinney ISD varsity groups have earned recognition from the foundation in the past—including the Honors Band at North—but this is the first year that the Symphonic Band has received such an accolade.
The fact that it comes in the award program’s second year speaks volumes about the depth of talent in the North band program, and Kurzweil said that it provided a gratifying conclusion to last year’s successes.
“It’s been a nice way to cap off that season,” he said. “You know, the second band sometimes doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the great work that they do. Those kids work really hard. They attend sectionals once a week for about an hour after school during our contest season. They test weekly over this music, and they really just rose to the occasion,” Kurzweil said.
Lily described the preparation she and her bandmates put in on the pieces last semester. “Well, we started learning the piece, I would say, in late December after our Christmas concert. Then, we worked in January, and this competition for us started in April, so if you think about it, that’s three and a half to four months of working on it in class every day for an hour. Even after school, I practiced 30 minutes to an hour every day, seven days a week, trying to make sure thateverything in the music was perfect, that I knew it, that I was completely confident in it. I’m sure that every other person in the band had done that.”
The Symphonic Band is made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores who are developing their talent and working their way up through the ranks, and the process of selecting pieces for them takes into consideration numerous variables.
“Finding the right music, finding the right players, finding the right soloists, finding the right sections to feature is always interesting when picking music,” Kurzweil said. “What music fits the band? That music becomes our curriculum for the entire second part of the year.”
These pieces—alto flutes, recorders and all—fit the players perfectly, and the results couldn’t have been better.
“It’s been great. I’m really thrilled for the kids,” Kurzweil said. “We made good music together.That was the best part of this year. It has progressed the right way with the Honors Band being named as a State Finalist in the Honor Band process and then attending state. Then this. It just seems to be a really nice progression.”