Band students team with junior highs for Eastside Band Festival

District 308 junior high band students received their first glimpse into performing on the high school stage at this year’s Eastside Band Festival, where they were able to play with and be mentored by East’s own high school band members. “I thought it was an interesting experience for both myself and the eighth graders involved,” junior flutist Vivian La said. “I was reminded of myself as an incoming freshman and the choice I made to continue band.” Photo by Alison Standish.

It’s a steady beat with a fluctuating tune, a melody that ranges from comforting to nerve-wracking as the chorus rises and falls. The music swells in intensity as the ominous percussion of homework assignments and friendship drama paired with the uncertainty of a new setting threatens to take control. But all the bleakness is quickly halted by the gentle trill of new relationships, new curiosity, and new opportunities. This is the song of the first year of high school band, a song that next year’s incoming freshman have the chance to experience.

On Monday, November 19th, the Band Department hosted the Eastside Band Festival, an event aimed to inspire and motivate District 308’s eighth grade band students to pursue band during their high school years at East. The all-day event functioned as a way for the younger band students to practice and perform alongside the high school wind symphony band while receiving critique, support, and guidance from East band directors Stevan Rexroat and Kelly Cooper.

From the first downbeat …

Junior high school bands from Bednarcik, Murphy, and Plank each had a time slot during the day to play and practice their pieces with the wind symphony band. After each practice session, select high school students had a chance to get up in front of the group and share their experiences with band to the younger students.

“This event gave me the opportunity to show others how important it is they have music in one’s life. [It] meant so much to me because music is the most influential thing in my life and being able to share my knowledge and passion for music made this event worthwhile,” junior tuba player Yori Awoyade said.

Awoyade added that her favorite part of the event was speaking to the eighth graders about the benefits of band, as well as demonstrating East’s musical talent by playing songs for the younger students. junior flutist Vivian La said that she enjoyed putting herself back in the shoes of her younger self and gaining a sense of leadership by assisting the younger students with their music.

“Today I was able to act as a role model to these 8th graders, and kind of represent the school they’re going to be at for the next four years. I was also able to fully understand just how daunting high school can be for these kids and how music can be a source of familiarity in an unknown environment,” La said.

Rexroat and Cooper spent the day coaching and conducting the collaborative efforts of the high school and junior high bands, in order to help the eighth graders understand what it’s like to participate in the band program.

“[My goal is] to promote excellence in everything we do and to provide students with a home here at [East]. We are fortunate in the band program where we get to teach the same students every year for 4 years, so as a result we become a very close family,” Rexroat said. “I really love music and the environment and camaraderie that is associated with it. My main goal is to pass on that passion and atmosphere to my students.”

Each eighth grade band was welcomed into the PAC and given a chance to practice one piece each, pieces they’d already learned. The wind symphony spent the week leading up to the event learning and practicing these songs in preparation.

“I think [the eighth graders] will gain a little sneak peek into the idea of what high school band is like and how the top band members in the school act and perform. [It’ll show them] what they could eventually be like if they practice hard enough and I think it’s a great experience for them to come in during the school day, to see how the school acts, and what the band room and the PAC look like,” junior baritone player Jack O’Mahoney said.

According to junior flutist Denisha Luluquisin, the Eastside Band Festival was beneficial not only to the eighth grade students but to herself as a high school band student, allowing her to enhance her mentorship ability as well as her musical skills.

“Asides from helping out the 8th graders, I think I also was also able to better myself as a musician. Because we were there to help the 8th graders, I felt the need to be a good role model, which meant that I had to mark everything Ms. Cooper and Mr. Rexroat said,”

Luluquisin added that she usually isn’t very diligent with marking music, but that the event challenged her to approach the day with a high level of attentiveness because the junior high students were looking to the high schoolers for guidance.

“With [the eighth graders] around, I feel like I was pushing myself to constantly do better,” Luluquisin said.

The wind symphony performed “Jingle Bells Forever” with Bednarcik, “Mambo Perro Loco” with Murphy, and “Achilles Wrath” with Plank. The song performed by the high school band members was “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorites.”

“We have been highly supported by our building administration, the junior high administration, all of the junior high music teachers, and our OE theater facility,” Cooper said. “We are truly thankful for everything that has been put in place to make this event successful.”

… To the last note.

According to the National Association for Music Education, “schools with music programs have an estimated 90.2% graduation rate and 93.9% attendance rate compared to schools without music education, which average 72.9% graduation and 84.9% attendance.”

Senior clarinet player Audrey Dyer said that she believes an involvement in music and band comes not only with social benefits, but with prominent cognitive and academic advantages as well.

“In the classroom setting, you’ll sit down and take notes and do a worksheet or do a project. In band, instead of doing that kind of structure, you’re in a room with other students who you have to collaborate with frequently to make sure that you’re playing in the styles and in the same tone,” Dyer said. “Your brain has to really be focused on the music that you’re playing. I think it requires a different kind of focus than normal schoolwork. It’s just a different kind of collaboration in an effort to make music.”

According to Rexroat, an involvement in band would be beneficial to incoming freshmen for a variety of reasons, and that he tries his hardest to encourage eighth grade students to continue being involved in band throughout their high school years.

“We focus a lot on learning how to play an instrument, but the life skills you learn by being in band, such as being a vital member of a team, social skills, time management, [and] self-confidence, are what I think are more important,” Rexroat said. “We stress the importance of surrounding yourself with others who also strive for excellence every day, and creating an environment of success. Additionally, in a society where anxiety and depression are on the rise, music provides an outlet to help with those conditions.”  

Junior trumpet player Alexandra Walsh said that band is her favorite part of the day, and that she enjoys the rehearsals and performances that come along with being a band member. Walsh’s younger sister, who’s in eighth grade, attended the Eastside Band Festival on Monday. Walsh said that she hopes her younger sister enjoyed the experience and that she’ll be inspired to join band at East next year.

“I would recommend band [to a freshman] because it’s just really fun. I love band. You can make friends, because freshman year you have to sit by people in band anyway. You’ll talk to the people who are in your section, so you’ll have friends in that class every day, [making it] an easier transition into high school,” Walsh said.

According to O’Mahoney, band is essential for anyone who has an interest in music. He said that his experiences in the band program have influenced his personal growth as well as his friendship circle.

“Coming in freshman year, I joined marching band. I wasn’t a very social person. Marching band made me realize that all the people in marching band were there to support me. They were there to help me, to make jokes with me, they were there to talk with me,” O’Mahoney said. “I made a lot of friends through that experience….Going into band class with the people that I knew already was so much better than going into classes where I knew no-one.”

Dyer said that she hopes the warmth and the welcoming attitude of the high school wind symphony displayed on Monday influenced the younger students in a positive way and that the experience will have an impact on the musical endeavors of their next four years.

“I hope that they’ll want to be in band. That’s the main goal, to get them to do band. I also hope that they’ll realize how welcoming and inclusive our band program is and just how we’re continuing to grow to get an even higher level of musicianship at our school,” Dyer said.

Alison Standish is a staff writer for Oswego East’s online news magazine the Howl

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