Ninety-eight student musicians from Bangor High School and 123 student musicians from Hampden Academy took a bite out of the Big Apple through competition in the New York City Heritage Music Festival on April 27-28. With a taste of performing in “one of the best venues in the country,” the students returned with silver and gold award plaques, soloist awards, and invitations to perform at Carnegie Hall.
According to Bangor High School Band Director Scott Burditt, Heritage Festivals provide an opportunity for student musicians to travel, witness other high school musical groups perform, and be judged by industry professionals. Both Hampden and Bangor’s music departments have attended Heritage Festivals in the past in Washington DC.
But this year was the first time Hampden Academy chose to compete in New York City, Hampden Academy Band Director Pat Michaud said.
“One of the reasons we [decided on] New York was because we were interested in having the department assessed,” said Michaud. “This was a chance to have professionals with expertise assess our groups. It’s great to [receive] critiques and get better. But it was also a cultural experience.”
Students from each school toured New York City, attended a Broadway musical, learned about the city’s history, and listened to other groups from across the country perform. The trip culminated in a boat ride to view the skyline and Statue of Liberty.
According to BHS Orchestra Director William Bell, the adjudication process is one of the driving factors for participating in a festival every two years.
“We do these trips first as an opportunity to test our skills and be judged on a national scale by collegiate and professional musicians and professors,” he said. “These trips and competitions are great motivators for students to give their all and prepare at a level higher than would normally be expected. We were pleased to hear comments about topics that went beyond notes and rhythms to expression and communication: what music is really about.”
Festival performances were held at the Riverside Church in Morningside. The church is a well-known performance space because of its sanctuary and architecture. Choirs performed in the sanctuary while the bands and orchestras performed in the nave of the Riverside Church.
“Riverside Church is one of the best venues to sing in in the United States,” said Hampden Academy Choral Director Heidi Corliss. “Since we perform in a gym regularly, this opportunity really gave the students whole different feel to the performance.”
“We’re thrilled by the performances of the kids,” said Bangor High School Principal Paul Butler. ”We’re really impressed that the success ran the whole breadth of the program. The kids I’ve talked to had a glow about them. The benefit of any co-curricular or curricular program is that it causes the students to stretch not only their own skills, but cooperative skills. Music gives students the venue to be great individually and collectively. We’re very proud of the kids and the program.”
While the directors said they were “all proud of their students,” the festival provided an opportunity for students to meet and be exposed to other schools in other states. According to Corliss, the students represented their towns with pride and integrity.
“We try to make great musicians, but making great people is just as important,” Corliss said.