By TEDDYE SNELL
This year, when the Tahlequah High School Orange Express heads off to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association state solo and ensemble contest, it’ll need two charter buses instead of one.
According to THS Band Director Josh Allen, about 70 of the 92 students have qualified to compete at the state level, many in multiple areas. All total, the band received 107 superior ratings at the regional contest, with 84 of those performances qualifying for the state competition. Allen said this is the largest number of students to qualify for the event in his recent memory.
“Per capita, we performed as well or better than any large school who participated in the regional contest,” said Allen.
The regional event took place last Saturday at THS. According to Allen, all nine of the THS ensembles received superior ratings, including the flute choir, the clarinet choir, the clarinet trio, the saxophone choir, the saxophone trio, the trumpet choir, the trombone choir, the low brass choir and the percussion ensemble.
“Last year, we took a single charter bus to state,” said Allen. “This year, we’ll be taking two. The judges [for regional] were tough, too. I just couldn’t be more pleased with our kids. They worked really hard and have been rewarded for their efforts.”
Students who participate in solo and ensemble contest take on the project as an extra commitment. Allen said very little class time is devoted to rehearsal for the endeavor. Students meet after school, take private lessons and practice on their own for the event.
“One of the things I think worth mentioning is that we encourage our kids to memorize their pieces, which is, for the most part, a qualification for state competition” said Allen. “We think by doing this we better prepare our kids for college, as memorization is required at that level.”
Cathy Cott is a perennial band parent, having had two daughters participate in the THS program. Her youngest, Meredith, was among the students performing Saturday.
“Band kids are some of the hardest-working, dedicated students in our school,” said Cott. “They usually love music, art, reading, etc., because these things are created from someone’s imagination, combined with the feelings and life experiences.”
The Orange Express will travel to New York City to compete in a concert contest over spring break, and Cott is looking forward to hearing about the performance. “I am so proud of our band students for all they have accomplished this year, and can’t wait to hear about their adventure to New York and see and hear about what impressed them most,” said Cott.
On Saturday, band boosters, band students and volunteers helped coordinate the day-long event, which included providing practice and performance space for all ensembles and soloists, concessions, check-in personnel and ratings ‘runners.’
Frances Boyd, THS Band Booster secretary, has two daughters in the Orange Express. Both received superior ratings. Boyd appreciated the time the judge took with her youngest daughter, Amanda.
“I thought the judge gave her some really good advice,” said Boyd. “The kids from all the schools were very well-behaved and the band boosters appreciated them making concession purchases. I really appreciate the help of all the kids and volunteers who worked to make Saturday’s event so successful.”
Joanna Walkingstick, also a band parent, believes competing provides skills students will use long into adulthood.
“The THS band program provides for these children a tangible opportunity for team building an leadership skills development critical to succeeding at the college and professional levels,” said Walkingstick. “We, as parents and a community, need to continue and build upon the forward path of fostering and supporting the Orange Express.”
Allen said the state solo and ensemble contest will be held in mid-April, the date has yet to be announced, at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.