Five music groups from schools in southwest Missouri are headed to the Missouri Music Educators Convention in Osage Beach later this month. All are choirs, except for the Central High School Wind Ensemble, which has been busy preparing for this honor for months. KSMU's Michele Skalicky daughter, Kate, plays alto saxophone in the group. She decided to see what goes into getting a band ready for a big performance like this one.
"It's a great opportunity to show what we're doing here in Springfield on the state stage so that teachers and students from around the state can see what's going on because there's just tremendous teaching happening in the Springfield District," said Central High School band director, Chris Rohrbaugh. "We have great middle school teachers that raise these students and teach them from the beginning, and there are so many quality band programs in Springfield. It's really humbling to get a chance to represent Springfield."
Rohrbaugh and fellow band director, Liz Pace, found out last summer they’d been selected to perform at MMEA. It’s a highly selective, very competitive process. Once a group is selected, the real work begins.
"The band that gets selected was the one from the spring before, and then so your program gets picked and you come back and then you have a new set of kids and then your job is to raise that ensemble up to hopefully fill those shoes and, you know, kind of earn the recognition you got before you were formed," said Rohrbaugh.
Students have put in many hours working on the music. They’ve attended rehearsal before and after school, on weekends and even during the winter break.
"We're not the only thing going on in their lives," said Rohbaugh. laughing. "From the band teachers' perspective, this is kind of our main focus, but we also know that, you know, our students are tremendously talented. They're doing...football and cheerleading and debate and swimming and swimming. So, many of them are finishing our rehearsal and then going over to another practice or they're doing a wrestling practice and them coming straight here and hopping in for an extra after school rehearsal, and that kind of dedication is just really admirable."
Rohrbaugh said, while the students are growing as musicians, what the experience is teaching them goes beyond that.
"It's, you know, hard work, dedication, sacrifice," he said. "I don't think that gets talked about enough in terms of success, and sometimes we just see the results and we don't see how much sacrifice people have put into it."
As they get ready to perform before music educators and students from across Missouri next week, the Central Wind Ensemble will perform a concert for the community Monday night (1/14) at 6 at Wehr Band Hall on the Missouri State University campus.
The public will be able to hear the pieces they’ll perform. Choosing that music wasn’t easy. Rohrbaugh said they listened to at least 100 pieces before deciding.
They’ll open with “Ride” by Samuel Hazo, which Rohrbaugh called “an energetic, aggressive piece.”
"It's a real short statement, about three minutes, and it flies," he said. "It's really fast and energetic and exciting and very technically demanding. That's been a lot of work on our plate on that piece."
The second piece is “Crystals” by Thomas Duffy, which Rohrbaugh described as ethereal and avant garde.
"It creates a number of sounds that aren't quite common in the band world," he said.
The piece challenges the ear, accoridng to Rohrbaugh, and challenges students to think about music in a new way.
"It has a lot of dissonence and a lot of ethereal, just floating atmosphere," he said. "There's some whistling, there's some wine glasses, there's calls for a gong to be submerged into water. There's all sorts of different tone qualities that help create this landscape of different types of crystals."
The composer calls for some sections to play wine glasses filled with water. They have to be tuned to certain notes ahead of the performance.
The third piece is Dolly by Gabriel Faure, which Rohrbaugh said, while it’s very simple, elegant and beautiful, it’s one of the most difficult for students and has offered the most growth in musicianship.
The band will close with Homage to Bharat by Briran Balmages, which incorporates a lot of traditional Indian elements and uses traditional Indian percussion instruments like the dhol and chenda.
As the date of the MMEA performance approaches, Rohrbaugh is feeling a mix of emotions—fear, but mostly excitement and pride.
"I really want this for the students. I want them to have an experience that sticks with them for a long time," he said.
And, even if the performance isn’t perfect, that’s ok.
"We want the performance to be as clean and accurate and perfect as possible. Of course, everybody does," he said. "But more important than that is emotion. Are we making musical experiences? Are we communicating? And I would be much more inclined to live with a performance that has a couple error but was really passionate and really heartfelt rather than, you know, really sanitized and clean and no emotion."
Again, the Central Wind Ensemble will perform their MMEA pieces during a concert Monday night (1/14) at 6 at MSU’s Wehr Band Hall.
Other area groups that will perform at MMEA include the Ozark Junior High Grace Notes, the MSU Multicultural Ensemble, the Chorale of Southwest Baptist Unviersity and the Fifth and Sixth Grade Honor Choir from Logan Rogersville Upper Elementary.