By Jillian Amodio
After excelling at the county level, Severna Park Middle School’s festival band is now headed to states. The festival band is led by band and orchestra director Randy Norris. Norris has been with Anne Arundel County for 28 years, 24 of which have been spent with Severna Park Middle School.
The festival band features a select group of students chosen through an audition process to become part of the competition team. It is made up of about 76 members. There are a few sixth-graders who earned themselves a spot in their first year; however, the majority of members are in the seventh and eighth grade.
The Maryland State Band Festival, held on May 6, will showcase the talents of the band members. All bands in attendance have excelled at the county level, earning them a spot in states. Being a member of the festival band takes intense focus and dedication from each student chosen. In preparation for competitions, the group practices twice a week either before or after school, and each member has a dedicated home practice schedule. Each student offered a seat in festival band is required to sign a contract saying that he or she understands the commitment needed to be involved. In addition to honing their musical talents, students learn valuable lessons pertaining to dedication, commitment and teamwork.
“We are, in fact, a team,” Norris said. “Instead of jerseys, we wear tuxedos, but this is very much a team effort.” The pieces selected for performance by the festival band are typically more complex than those frequently used for school concerts and in the classroom setting. Therefore, practice, dedication and talent are needed from each member for the group to be a success.
At the state level, about 50 bands are expected to be in attendance. While not technically competing against one another, each band has its sights set on achieving a superior rating from the judges. After a brief warmup period, each band will play three prepared pieces in front of three judges. The panel of judges typically includes military musicians or college professors. The three pieces that Severna Park Middle School will perform are “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” “The Cave You Fear” and “Fable,” which is based on Aesop’s fables.
In addition to performing prepared pieces, bands are tasked with performing a piece of music they have never seen. Each band director has only two minutes to read over the selection and another three minutes to talk to the band members. Then, they will play the piece for the first time. While bands can read the sheet music, talk and clap beats, they are prohibited from touching their instruments prior to performing the selection. While this seems like a grueling task, this is a skill and concept that the band practices in the school setting as well.
When asked what being a part of the festival band means to the students, Norris said, “The kids who have been here for a couple of years realize how much of an honor it is. And the sixth-graders know how much of an honor it is to be a first-year member. The kids look forward to the audition process and anticipate the excitement of reading the names on the list of those selected.”
In addition to attending competitions, Norris looks forward each year to seeing the students thrive, especially those who may have had to overcome self-doubt. He considers it the greatest honor to watch kids blossom as musicians once they realize their fullest potential.