In different circumstances, our late winter arrival of snow in the Yakima Valley would be received by hopeful high school students as refreshing and rejuvenating. The promise of two-hour delays and school cancellations are not supposed to be stressful, frustrating or worrisome.
Unfortunately that’s exactly the result the weather had for students in the Davis High School wind ensemble who were preparing for their biggest performance yet: the All-Northwest Conference that was scheduled for Feb. 15 in Portland.
The All-Northwest Conference is a music gathering that occurs every other year in which music educators from a six-state area — Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming — congregate to discuss music education and hear exceptional examples of bands from across the region. To be invited to perform at this conference is no small feat; only three high schools from the region are selected to present at this showcase.
Last year, Davis High School band director Brian Beck submitted a recording of the Davis wind ensemble to the All-Northwest Committee in hopes that the band would be chosen to play at the conference for 2019. When the band was selected as one of the three to perform at the conference in Portland, Beck and the wind ensemble were ecstatic.
However, many students were also very nervous. Personally, as a first-year member of the wind ensemble, I was worried about not fulfilling my duties to my section as a flute player.
Nathan Gonzales, a senior in the ensemble, expressed similar thoughts: “The opportunity was very magical, but the whole time it was pretty nerve-wracking. You know, it was just scary because everyone didn’t want to mess up.”
The months leading up to the performance were, to put it bluntly, brutal. The selection of music was advanced literature ranked in the upper 4 and 5 range of difficulty. It was the most challenging music I played in my life! For the woodwind parts, the songs were filled with challenging runs and exposed sections that required diligent practice. I would practice runs in “Scarecrow Overture” (my favorite piece in the concert) over and over until my fingers were sore. The other pieces were equally challenging: “Sheltering Sky” for its maintained steady pitch; “Symphonic Dance No. 3” for its complex rhythms, aggressive style, and unfamiliar time signatures; and “Pas Redouble” for its finger timing.
Because the program was so complex, there were after-school practices, sectionals, playing tests, and guest conductors. To everyone who was involved, it was a huge commitment.
Due to the late-winter inclement weather that so many people were longing for, the Yakima School District had several school delays and cancellations that prevented important band rehearsals the week before the performance, which was very concerning. The weather also posed the threat of the trip’s cancellation.
Fortunately, it was deemed safe enough to travel and, early in the morning of Feb. 15, the charter bus departed from Davis to Portland via a longer route in order to remain safe on the icy roads. Five hours later, the wind ensemble was inside the Portland Convention Center, which oddly resembles both an airport and a huge Costco warehouse.
Upon arriving, we had a brief scheduled rehearsal prior to lunch, then time to get dressed for our performance. An hour before our time to play, we were placed in a conference room designated for last minute self-practice and as a place to calm down before the concert. When the time came, everyone took out their instrument and began practicing the music for the show.
After a while, though, our director stopped the practice time and told us to have a seat. I remember him saying: “You have had this music since marching band season and we’ve been working on it for months. You have it down technically. What you need to focus on is playing musically. Every measure should tell the audience why you love to play music so much.”
He then repeated what he mentioned to us in an email the day prior: “You are one of the best concert bands, if not the best, to come out of the Yakima Valley.”
After those inspiring words, I don’t think anybody really felt so nervous anymore. It was just a performance. We played the music countless times and we were as ready as we would ever be. The stage no longer seemed so daunting. When Mr. Beck gave us an encouraging smile from his podium, he affirmed all these thoughts. So I began to play.
When the performance was done, it was like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. All the hard work over the past months was shared with the world through the music. The crowd came up from their chairs and gave us a standing ovation. It was a memorable experience for all of us. The concert symbolized a huge step for Davis and the efforts of every person in the ensemble to create the music together.
Victoria Sanchez, a junior piccolo player, recalls it all this way: “I really think that it was a great experience to be part of. It had a lot of meaning to me, especially because our flute mentor Elliott Westom took time each week to help us out with our parts. I appreciate it so much and it means a lot to me that he came to see us perform. I also got to see my former middle school teacher. She is retired, but she came all the way to see me. It was such a happy memory that I cried.”
Amy Bailon is a junior at Davis High School.