The mood inside the band room at Holmes Middle School could be defined as excited, as the roughly 30 seventh and eighth graders in the school’s symphonic band prepare for a performance at the Illinois Grade School Music Association’s Northern Division State Festival next weekend in Winnetka.
“In the groups that go around us, they are some of the best bands in the state,” said Jeremy Budrow, director of bands at the middle school. “So it is an honor for us to be there and we’re very happy the kids are playing at a level well enough to inspire the judges to invite us to participate.”
The band qualified for the state-wide event after its performance at the regional level in March. It was rated by a panel of three judges, all of whom are band directors, on how well it performed. Budrow defined the regional experience as “a clinic that is educationally sound,” essentially how well the Holmes band played the Holmes music.
The state competition will differ in terms of venue. Whereas the band would previously play in a gymnasium-type setting, or a more open space, the state-level performance takes place in a much more organized and musically appropriate venue. This year’s event at New Trier High School will see the band perform in that school’s auditorium.
“There will be a significant difference, and we’ve informed the kids of that,” Budrow said. “We’ve been telling them that this space is designed in a way where if you drop a pin in the middle of the stage, the people who sit in the way back will be able to hear it, which is both good and bad. If you play well, they can hear you. But if things are a bit weird…they’ll be able to hear that, too.”
In preparing for both the regional and state performances, Holmes invited out a pair of guest conductors: Cindy Severino, band director at Cooper Middle School; and Mike Malek, director of bands at Wheeling High School. Both Budrow and Tyler Guthrie, who co-direct the symphonic band, described the experience as “excellent.”
“It’s to some level parental, where they’ve heard the same schtick from us so much and then all it takes is for someone else to suddenly voice these concerns, and the information is either processed in a different manner or we just see them light up,” Budrow added. “It’s wonderful to watch.”
He noted that the students were very respectful while also being super responsive, mentioning that they were trying, etching down ideas or notes on their sheets of music.
The music has changed slightly between performances, with Budrow and Guthrie swapping out “Darklands March” for “The Last Ride of the Pony Express.” The band will continue to play its other two pieces: “Moscow, 1941” and “Seconds Out.”
“[Moscow and Seconds] were well-chosen to fit the ability level of the kids, and they were pieces that could keep their interest,” Budrow notes, adding that “Last Ride” still falls in the wheelhouse, but also works well into the band’s final concert of the year.
Returning to the mood, Guthrie said he has not seen any sort of nerves among the students: “They definitely got it out in the first performance, and since the itinerary is very similar to the regional performance, they kind of know what to expect. They’re definitely excited, though.”
While some nerves might kick in that day, the trip is designed to where Holmes students will see Wood Oaks Junior High School perform first. It will give them a chance to read the room, “hear a killer group and hopefully give them some inspiration,” Budrow said.
“We haven’t gotten any one-on-one expressing nervousness,” he adds. “We’re just happy the kids are making music, especially since the last few years have been a little less that what we used to do.”
The state performance is scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 29, at New Trier High School.