DECATUR – Every musician knows the hard work and dedication required to learn an instrument, and that learning never stops.
Practice time can never be neglected, but when the all-state music conference is coming up, practice takes on additional importance. Several Decatur School District students, instrumentalists and vocalists were named to the all-state band, orchestra and choir. The concert was held as part of a statewide music teachers' conference.
“Honestly, they do a lot of the work on their own,” said Eisenhower High School band director Jennifer Morrow. “They're hard workers and they put in the time before school and after school and at home. I do always make myself available before and after school and a couple of students work (on their own) on weekends and they send me emails with videos or pictures of their question and I can do an audio or video recording to help them out, so even if we're not here (together) physically, I can help them.”
The students have to audition for the all-state program and the auditions come right in the middle of marching band season, when they're already putting in a lot of extra time, Morrow said. The orchestra students have a little time in class to work on their audition pieces, but some of them are also in band, juggling multiple commitments.
Making the all-state band is equivalent to making it to state competition in sports, Morrow said. A plaque in the trophy case at Eisenhower, for example, lists students who have been all-state in previous years and this year's students' names will be added.
“It's good experience for them, anyway, but if they're planning to play in college, it's good experience and if you can write that, especially if you're going into music or they're looking for people who have been involved (in activities), it looks good on applications,” Morrow said.
Morrow starts making connections with kids in fifth grade and encouraging them to stick with music into high school. Being flexible helps, because students are often involved in sports and other activities in addition to band, some of which might occasionally conflict in scheduling.
Bassist Londarius Hayes has one of those busy schedules. In addition to orchestra, he is one of four student ambassadors to the Decatur Board of Education, which requires attending board meetings and familiarity with district issues.
“I think they take the top 2 percent or something,” he said of the auditions. This will be his second trip to all-state. Students audition again when they arrive in Peoria for the conference, and are assigned positions, and the second day is filled with rehearsals. The performance is the third day.
“It takes a lot of time to practice and get ready for everything,” said Matthew Clayton, violinist. “You can listen to all the reference recordings. You can play for someone else. That way you're prepared for playing for someone who's going to judge you, basically.”
Miruna Eynon chose cello because it is the instrument closest in sound to the human voice, she said. She's been a standout on the instrument since sixth grade, when she won a Symphony Guild scholarship while she was a student at Dennis School. She would have qualified for all-state last year, based on her musical skill, but she was a freshman and you have to be at least a sophomore. She's a little nervous, but only a little, because she has a lot of auditions and high-pressure performances under her belt already. She wants to make a career of performing.
“It has a similar range to a human, from a low bass to a high soprano,” she said. “I like the tonal quality. And another thing,” she added, chuckling, “you have to sit when you play it, so I get to be lazy.”
Bassoon player Billy Bradshaw knows that his instrument is likely going to help him get scholarship money for college, but that's not why he chose it. He was intrigued by the sound.
“It's really unique, and it's a challenge to your coordination to play it,” he said. “It's fun to learn and play, and once you get good enough at it, it's really a versatile instrument.”