DECATUR – Hailey Graven plays in her church's praise band and in Meridian High School's band, but neither of those groups offers the same chance as performing in Kirkland Fine Arts Center.
Graven, a senior, and the rest of the Meridian band got that chance on Tuesday at the Millikin High School Band Festival, with 10 local high school bands and the Millikin Wind Ensemble.
Gary Shaw, who directs the wind ensemble, was one of several adjudicators who critiqued the bands and offered suggestions for improvement. Each group played for 20 minutes, followed by a clinic with one of the adjudicators.
It was that clinic portion that Graven enjoyed most.
“We learn things that we can use later,” she said. “What we learned a couple of years ago comes back to us and we think, 'Oh, that's what they were talking about,' and it makes us better.”
Shaw said he sends notices out in the fall to area high schools and while time only allows for a specific number, Millikin University tries to accommodate as many as possible. Each band receives a CD recording of their performance, too.
“While they're not playing, they listen to the other bands,” Shaw said. “We know that most of the high school kids who play in bands don't have the opportunity to hear a different band. So it's for performing and for listening and it's an educational experience. It's not a contest. There's no score keeping or awards or trophies at the end of the day. It's just learning.”
Even if it's not formally a competition, Meridian senior trumpet player Allison Kersey said there's still that spirit of competition in that they're playing in front of university music professors and other schools' bands, so they want to do their best.
The festival has grown every year, Shaw said. The band that came the farthest was the Monticello High School band.
Amanda Allen, director of the Monticello Middle School band, said so many students want to play that the high school has two full bands which meet every other day. The band at the festival on Tuesday was the “A” band, the most proficient students.
“We have such great facilities and equipment and such a beautiful hall,” Shaw said. “Many of these students perform in their cafeteria or their gym, so they actually get to perform in a concert hall like this.
“It's community outreach for Millikin, and it's also good recruiting for us, because we have these students here for the day and they go eat lunch in the cafeteria and they get to see the campus, and hopefully, some of them will be interested in coming to Millikin.”