The sound of state
OHS receives high honor
March 10, 2017 • 225 views
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The Owatonna Symphony Orchestra has been one of Owatonna’s elite music groups since its beginning in 1919. This year, the group has received a phenomenal opportunity. They will be participating as one of six groups at the MMEA Midwinter Conference. This conference is a gathering of the Minnesota Music Educators Association. All music educators in Minnesota are welcome to attend. Teachers attend to enhance their teaching, and learning by watching some of Minnesota’s most elite group’s perform.
The Owatonna Symphony Orchestra is the highest level orchestra in OHS. This group is made of some of the best musicians in the school, containing both All State Band/Orchestra and National Orchestra participants. Being known as a member of this group is a great accomplishment. Performing in this conference is the equivalent of making “state” for the symphony. The group director, Mrs. Sandra Justice, sent in numerous recordings of the symphony playing at the 2016 Big Nine Festival in order to qualify. She also sent a detailed description of the Owatonna Music Department’s orchestra education. This process is considered the audition for a group. Justice had this to say in regard to the audition process: “To perform for the music educators you have to achieve that certain bar and pass the committee’s standards to make it.”
The symphony has been preparing since last spring, when Mrs. Justice gave the group Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in hopes of making it to state. The students received the announcement of their state achievement in September and they have been working tirelessly ever since. When asked what the hardest part about preparing for state is, junior violinist McKenna Dirks said, “Getting down the tricky parts together with my section so we are in unison.” All the symphony students have such drive to create great music, and have put in the work to prove that. For many of them music has almost become a way of life. Junior violinist Parker Aase had this to say when asked what music does for him, “Orchestra is kind of an escape from everyday reality. Music in its own way is a special world.” This is a common feeling throughout members of the symphony, Mrs. Justice included.
The students even had an opportunity to work with a symphony orchestra clinician, Mark Russell Smith. An orchestra clinician is an experienced professional conductor called in to give an orchestra suggestions. On Jan. 22, Smith came into OHS to improve the student’s playing abilities, and having him there seemed to be a great help. As senior cellist Mya Day Block put it, “I could hear the music come alive. One piece we played sounded intensely better without Mr. Smith even saying anything. The experience was eye-opening.”
The symphony will be performing English Folk Song Suite, McCormick Fanfare, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Opt. 67, Clair De Lune, and Conga Del Fuego Nuevo at the conference. Symphony orchestra students typically play for 20-30 minutes, but for this performance their pieces will take nearly an hour to play. This is a lengthy performance with high-caliber music, and preparing has been difficult.
Mrs. Justice herself has never personally been to a conference of this sort; this is a new experience for the orchestra program as a whole. This also creates a challenge for the Owatonna group going to conference, as they really don’t know what to expect. Even though this issue is present in each group member’s mind, they have hardly let it affect them. The six orchestra groups at conference will be showing off their playing skills, which means there is a drive for each group to be the best one there. Though the group will not be competing per say, the pressure to do well is still there Justice said, “This is a different playing field. You’re really going against your peers in music education, so it’s comparable to me playing singles against another director.”
This mix of talent, passion, and willingness to work for success is truly rare- it is admirable for a high school group. Mrs. Justice said, “It’s at a point where they’re playing at such a high quality. The orchestra students here don’t realize the orchestra that they have is really incredible. They are playing pieces that college orchestras will never play.”
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