A typically busy year has gotten even busier for the Lake Braddock Secondary School band program.
For the fourth time in school history, the Symphonic Band, the school’s top band, is headed to the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago for three days in December.
"Once we started rehearsal during the school year, there’s been no stopping. We’ve been working our butts off all school year, and we’re getting close," said senior Garry McLinn, who plays the saxophone. "It’s really cool, what we’re doing."
The band is one of just four high-school bands in the country to perform at the clinic, an international band and orchestra conference that draws more than 12,000 music educators, publishers, composers, musicians and conductors.
In addition to exhibition booths, the clinic features performances from bands at every level, from grade school to professional groups.
"The feeling of accomplishment that goes into accomplishing something this major and succeeding, that alone is worth the effort," said Roy Holder, director of bands at Lake Braddock. Under Holder’s direction, bands from Lake Braddock have attended the Midwest Clinic three times before, in 1986, 1990 and 1997.
"It was just a good time for us to do it," said Holder. "In the long run, you’re getting to play for an audience you can’t duplicate anywhere. You’re going to play for several thousand professional musicians. That’s not an audience that’s in your back door. To a high-school kid, that’s pretty thrilling."
THE AUDITION process for the clinic began in March. In order to apply, the band had to submit an audio recording of selections, which had to include specific styles of music. The tape had to be accompanied by a matching video recording, which the judges used to further narrow down the field.
Once they got in, Holder and fellow Lake Braddock band director Nelson Penserga went to work selecting their lineup of songs to perform. The songs performed at the clinic must be published by publishers who attend the convention and must showcase a variety of publishers. After all, the clinic is a convention for those in the industry. Among the pieces the band will play are "The Thunderer" by John Philip Sousa, a suite by Peter Tchaikovsky, an arrangement of the Christmas favorite "Carol of the Bells," and "La Forza del Destino" by Giuseppe Verdi. Lake Braddock’s band is also playing a piece called "Steps Along the Way," which was written by composer Michael Davis specifically for the event and has yet to be performed anywhere. Holder said he requested a piece that would showcase the band’s strong saxophone section, and Davis responded by writing a piece that traces the history of the saxophone through its different musical periods.
"This kind of performance even pushes us further in terms of playing technique and ability, and developing our tone and the teamwork," said senior Yasemin Arikan, who plays the clarinet. "The good thing about these kinds of events, yes, it’s wonderful to get invited, but pushing ourselves to meet those standards and try to exceed them helps us as players tremendously."
BOTH ARIKAN and McLinn also play in the Lake Braddock Marching Band, which just wrapped up its fall season the same way it has for nearly a quarter of a century. At the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association state competition at Battlefield High School in Manassas on Oct. 30, the band, which is composed of nearly 200 students, was one of six schools at the competition to receive a "superior," rating. It was the 24th year in a row that Lake Braddock’s Marching Band has earned the rating. If the symphonic band earns a superior rating at its festival in the spring, it will be the 24th straight year Lake Braddock has achieved "Honor Band" status, having obtained superior ratings for both bands.
"Our program is built very much around [the belief that] by the end of the marching season, and concert season in the spring, we want to have reached that level," said Holder. "It’s something we compete with ourselves for, not with anybody else."
Much like a sports team building on the tradition of past teams, members of the Lake Braddock bands said they look to the bands of the past to give them motivation to succeed.
"Because of this name, and the history behind it, we get attention, and it’s great that because of this, there’s this overwhelming feeling that I’m proud of what I’m doing," said Arikan.
Also, like a sports team, marching band begins its season before school in the fall, with a two-week camp that features "two-a-days," where students march in the morning, then head inside to practice in the afternoons. At Lake Braddock, the determination has paid off with quite a trophy collection.
"All those plaques are hanging in a cluster on the wall in the band room. They’re very aware," said Holder. "They know exactly that for the past number of years, these other kids have managed to do this, and it becomes very personal for them to do it again."