Top band performers gather

HOLLIDAYSBURG – There were 187 pairs of eyes fixed on guest conductor Donald McKinney’s hands, poised at shoulder height with his conductor’s baton at the ready.

Those eyes belong to students from across 11 counties and 51 school districts, all of whom have come together since Wednesday to prepare for this year’s Region III Band Festival at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School.

Scott Sheehan, Hollidaysburg band director and festival host director, said today’s concert is the culmination of hours, and often years, of work by band directors and students.

“It’s the byproduct of all the hard work that goes on every day,” he said Friday afternoon. “I can’t say enough how important it is, for the future, that students continue to be creative and learn to express themselves through music and art.”

McKinney, a Pennsylvania native who now teaches and conducts band at Louisiana State University, said he was excited to be a part of the festival and said it’s a way for students to feed their love of and passion for music.

“I want these students to continue to experience music throughout the rest of their lives,” he said.

McKinney said the six pieces in the program range from Henry Fillmore’s march “The Klaxon” to the more standard “First Suite in E-Flat” by Gustav Holst.

The concert will be a mixture of older and newer pieces, he said, and offers a challenge with more technically demanding pieces like “Moving Parts” by David Sampson.

“The goal of these festivals is the chance to interact and mingle with students throughout the state,” he said, as well as give students an opportunity to play harder pieces than they may be playing at their own schools.

Samantha Stalter, 17, a tuba player from Altoona Area High School, said it’s her second year participating in regional band and she was excited to reunite with friends she made last year.

Others in the festival understand and share in the same love of music. After the festival ends, the students often don’t see each other again until next year, she said.

Emma Mosier, a 17-year-old clarinetist from State College High School, said it’s her third year at the festival. She remembered to stock up on lip balm to keep her mouth prepared for a daylong rehearsal, she said.

Mosier has been playing clarinet since fourth grade. She said one of the things she loves most about her instrument is its variety and how she can produce an array of different sounds from her woodwind to fit different musical styles.

She also said she values the friendships she’s made at festivals, and has fun playing alongside some of the same people year after year.

Hollidaysburg’s Michael Klingbeil, 17, is playing French horn in the festival. Stalter, who is friends with Klingbeil, boasted on his behalf that Regional Band is his 18th festival and he’s already made All-State Band – just like last year.

Klingbeil said the French horn is unlike any other instrument, and its sound rings clear and really comes through during a piece.

Although the students are competitors, having auditioned to beat out most of their peers for a place at All-State, there is a shared love of music and an appreciation for how each woodwind, brass and percussion instrument fits together in a composition.

There is also the shared exhaustion of the rigorous practice schedule that leaves some lips numb and arms feeling heavy especially for tuba players like Stalter, whose instrument doesn’t fit into a tote-sized carrying case like so many of her friends.

“It’s still fun,” she said. “You’re struggling, but you’re struggling with all your friends.”

Sheehan said with all of the outside pressure on schools and cutbacks to music and arts education, it’s a testament to the dedication of the students on the auditorium stage that they are able to be there.

“It’s so important for communities and school districts to value the importance of music and arts in our curriculum. … It takes such dedication to be a musician,” he said.

After a break in rehearsal Friday afternoon, McKinney signaled to the students that their break had ended and most were quick from their seats.

One curly-haired student gripped his bassoon, the detached reed dangling from his mouth, and challenged a female flutist to a race. He shouted, “First on stage! First on stage!” and they raced for the stairs.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.