By Frank Troyka
Fourteen of America’s finest high school concert bands, 10 percussion ensembles and a specially-invited orchestra performed February 26-28 at the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival. We asked Frank Troyka, Director of Bands at Cypress Falls High School, Texas, who performed at the Festival, to share thoughts on his, and his students’ experience.
Twenty years of teaching may not sound like much to many of my colleagues and mentors, but it’s long enough to amass some truly significant experiences and to reflect on those that were defining moments. Many of them were solitary moments of realization and others were shared experiences that contributed to the developing culture of my band program. My students, their parents, my associates, and I just experienced one of those defining moments by way of this past February’s 13th Annual BOA National Concert Band Festival.
My history with the Festival is as old as the event itself. I attended the very first National Concert Band Festival held in March of 1992 at Northwestern University where I had expected to be something of a fly on the wall, just an observer who wanted to see for himself the new direction Bands of America was going with its fledgling concert initiatives. Instead, I was asked to serve as the personal liaison to Dr. Frederick Fennell during his week with the Honor Band of America. I saw the Festival from the inside and, with icons like Dr. Fennell, John Paynter, and William Revelli so closely involved, I got a pretty strong idea of where BOA was headed with its new concert events. Without hesitation, I applied that Spring to bring my band to the 2nd annual festival and was fortunate to have received the invitation.
Now, over a decade later, the National Concert Band Festival continues to do what it did from the very beginning, but on a much grander scale. It is unquestionably the single most significant musical experience I have ever shared with my students.
Out-of-state trips for our band are something we all look forward to with great anticipation. From the teacher’s perspective, I have two primary criteria that a trip such as this must satisfy. First, there has to be an educational opportunity not available to us locally. Second, the performance itself must be a memorable experience by way of the audience, the venue, and those hosting the event. From the student perspective, the criteria are usually much broader and less prohibitive! Recent trips have taken us to San Antonio, Dallas, Corpus Christi (always a favorite because of the beach!), and Orlando.
“Being my senior year, a guy’s got to wonder what his last band trip will be like. Trips to the beach and even Disney World are hard to top, but you always want your senior year to be special.” This was the sentiment bassoonist Young Park expressed to me in a letter written shortly after our return from this year’s Festival. “When I first heard that our trip was to Indianapolis, my first thought was, Hmmm, that’s different.” I appreciated his polite diplomacy!
From the moment we arrived in Indianapolis, late on a Wednesday night, everyone got the message that this was going to be a first-class experience. The Marriott Hotel, our home for the Festival, foretold of the grandeur and national scope of the event. Among master classes, the concerts by the Canadian Brass and the Honor Band of America, the student social, the concerts we attended as part of our audience responsibility, and our rehearsals, we had one of the busiest trips we’ve taken. Our schedule was rigorous, to say the least. I was a bit concerned that so hectic a schedule and such limited free time might take its toll by our performance on Saturday. Such was not the case!
My students thrived on the excitement of so much activity. They found themselves visiting personally with many students from other bands around the country as well as the master class faculty and the members of the Canadian Brass. How could I have ever orchestrated such opportunities on my own?
Then came our performance. There were no trophies, no ratings, no judges, but somehow the energy level and anticipation we felt was at a fever pitch. I knew it would be. The panel of evaluators comprised the most learned, most influential educators and mentors of the band movement, and there were hundreds of educated listeners from other performing bands as well. Their response was overwhelming.
As we finished our performance, still on stage receiving the generous approval of the audience, we all shared in the unspoken realization that this experience surpassed anything we had ever done. Perhaps Young Park summed it up best. “I think that to say my senior band trip was special is an understatement. It was something I haven’t felt before. A new kind of experience in my life.”
My sentiments precisely.