Twenty-four schools converged on Saratoga High School’s McAfee Center Friday and Saturday for the California Music Educators Association (CMEA) Bay Section Area V/VII Band/Orchestra Festival to compete not against each other, but themselves.
The event, in its fifth year at Saratoga, put middle and high school bands in front of three judges for live performances and three judges for a sight-reading test.
Proficiency scores were tallied based on a rubric that included the primary grade level of each group, how many hours a week the band class meets and other factors.
The judges also provided each school with feedback, including recorded play-by-play commentary on their live performances, that music teachers can take back to the classroom.
While most students are used to playing in their school’s gymnasium or cafeteria, performing before a crowd in a venue designed for the arts inspired many of the festival’s participants.
“I’m really excited we get to perform in front of an audience,” Malini Pathakota, a freshman at Monta Vista High School and a clarinet player in the symphonic band there, said. “We don’t get to do that a lot. If we mess up here, we can really tell.”
Laura Flanders, a freshman at Prospect High School who also plays the clarinet in her school's symphonic band, said she relished the chance to get feedback from professional judges.
“It’s nice to get feedback from professionals about our performance,” she said. “We learn a lot from that about our performance ability and our skill.”
The CMEA Bay Section extends from just north of Santa Rosa down to Hollister and from the coast to Stockton. Homestead High School, Moreland Middle School and even a high school wind ensemble from San Diego were among the schools that took part in the festival.
Michael Boitz, the chair of Saratoga’s performing and visual arts department, said that performing in a space like McAfee brings out the best in student musicians.
“You are only going to get a gymnasium to sound so good,” he said. “[Students] aren’t going to have the greatest connection to the composer and to the craft if they are not in a space that was legitimately built for what they do.”
Educators leave the festival learning something, too.
“For me, the most unique part is the sight-reading element,” Boitz said. “It identifies to us if we are forcing students to simply memorize by rote versus seeing if they are able to have musical comprehension and music literacy. It’s a watchdog on us educators.”
Prospect brought its string orchestra in addition to its symphonic band to the festival. The school's director of music, Ryan Goodenough, said that the festival allows students to learn about music outside of the classroom.
“This is probably the most educational thing the kids do in terms of performances all year,” he said. “The students like that they are able to get on stage and they like the pressure."
Although the festival serves an educational purpose, Alex Dutton, an eighth grade saxophonist with the Moreland symphonic band, said that he simply looked forward to taking the stage at the festival.
“We don’t get the chance to talk to many other bands because we go from warm-up to performing quickly," he said. "But it’s just fun to go out there and play.”