By Debbie Laferty Asbill

The bands and percussion ensembles that performed at the Bands of America National Concert Band Festival and National Percussion Festival presented by Yamaha, Mar. 10-12, 2005 in Indianapolis, experienced more than a three-day celebration of musical excellence. This positively life-changing experience started from the moment of audition and will extend years into the future with the impact on those who participated.

The National Concert Band Festival and National Percussion Festival is recognized as the epitome of concert festivals in America. “It is simply the finest music festival available to bands, percussion ensembles and [starting next spring] orchestras in the country,” says Andrew Gekoskie, Director of Bands at Langley High School, VA and a participant in the 2005 Festival. “It offers a wonderful performance opportunity with a chance to interact and receive feedback from some of the finest wind conductors.”

“My ensemble came all the way from American Fork, UT to share the stage with the best percussionists in the country and were able to experience a wide variety of educational opportunities,” said Michael Huestis, whose American Fork H.S. percussion ensemble was invited to perform at the festival. The American Fork H.S. Wind Symphony was an invited ensemble at the 2004 National Concert Band Festival.

“BOA runs everything in a professional manner and the students and directors have a greater experience because of it. The hotel, travel arrangements, business dress, clinicians, evaluators and hosts were all the best that one could hope for. People behave differently when they are dressed up, sitting with outstanding musicians and sharing an experience that has an elevated level of importance.

“Another reason the Bands of America Festival is unique and special is because of its non-competitive nature, once the ensembles have been selected. After our audition tape was accepted, and I knew that we would be sharing the stage with the greatest musical ensembles in the country, I began the all important process of selecting literature and planning rehearsals. Because there would not be ratings or placements, we really stretched ourselves and took musical risks in literature selection. The students responded to the challenges and rehearsed more professionally than ever before. They were motivated to rise to the level of the musicians that they would be surrounded by in Indianapolis, and by the challenge of the literature that was put before them. If I had been concerned with the ‘ratings’ perhaps I would not have taken the risk.”

“The Plymouth-Canton Educational Park’s participation in the 2005 National Concert Band Festival and National Percussion Festival was truly evolutionary for our program,” said Director Marc Whitlock. “For months the staff and I prepared the students as best we could, both musically and verbally, for the experience they were about to encounter, but no words could prepare them for the aesthetic and musical rewards they were about to receive. The experience elevated them to a new understanding of how incredible a music performance can be and the shared camaraderie of musicians from all over the country. Our students are still talking about the wonder of the Festival and how they wish it could have lasted even longer. This was my third time attending the Festival and this was my best experience yet. It keeps getting better and better! I recommend this highly substantial experience to all educators and music students alike.”

For Mr. Whitlock’s PCEP wind ensemble students, the Festival provided a revelation — a pinnacle of understanding about the musical journey they had experienced leading up to the Festival. “The journey was hard, but the pay-off was amazing,” says senior Richelle Dwenger. “I would not trade the countless hours of practices for anything.”

Students feel the experience of listening to other outstanding groups from across the nation opens their eyes. “All the performers and events inspired me to be a better musician,” said PCEP Junior Chuck Nahra. Students also enjoyed the atmosphere created by lack of ratings or scores. “It was great ‘playing to play,’ not to try to ‘compete’ against other bands,” said Junior Jenna Olexsey. Added Junior Lauren Jasinski, “Attending the Festival was an amazing experience because I’ve never had the opportunity to become completely immersed in such quality music or be surrounded by so many peers who are truly passionate about what we do.”

“It was wonderful to be proud of yourself and your band without needing a score or placement to be satisfied,” said senior Jamie Paffenroth. “Just being together, doing what we love and sharing it with people all around the country who feel the same way is what this Festival is all about.”