Berryville Middle School band hits right notes at assessment
The Berryville Middle School Band won first division at the Region Concert Assessment in Harrison on Thursday, March 8.
Band director Hayley Watson said the event was an assessment of the band’s preparation and skill level, and first division is the top score bands can receive.
“Basically, what they do is use a rubric and give you check marks in different categories,” she said. “It’s not the kind of competition where we compete against other kids.”
For the concert, Watson said the Berryville band played “Liturgical Fanfare” by Robert W. Smith, “Imperium” by Michael Sweeney and “Darklands March” by Randall Standridge.
She said winning first division was a special moment for the band because none of the students had gone to a concert assessment before.
“I guess in years past here they’ve only taken eighth- graders, so none of the kids in this group have ever been to a concert assessment,” Watson said. “That was a big deal because that’s the first time they’ve ever played a concert for judges.”
She said the judges this year were renowned in Arkansas, and they all had more than 20 years of musical experience.
“When I saw who the judges were, I knew if you got a first division from them it was going to mean something,” Watson said. “On top of that, none of our kids have ever played on a real stage before.”
While the district’s plans for a new high school include a performing arts auditorium, she said the school does not currently have any kind of stage.
“The students had to make a lot of decisions in that concert to keep their nerves calm and commit to tempos because there’s really no way we can mimic that environment here,” Watson said. “It sounds totally different.”
She continued, “I told them to look up at me the first 12 seconds of each piece so I could tell them a little less this or a little more that. A different pace makes a huge difference, and they really did that. It paid off. It’s really mature for a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds to have perspective to be able to do that kind of thing.”
Watson said she is really proud of her students.
“There’s nothing more special than getting to tell your kids that they’ve reached a goal they’ve been working really hard to reach,” she said.
Watson said the students began learning the songs in January and often had instrument sectionals after school.
“Sometimes, we had sectional four days a week after school, and I had almost zero attendance problems,” she said. “These kids want to be good. When you have that plus the supportive administration like we have, there’s no excuse not to be great.”
Watson continued, “The sectionals were sometimes two hours long. Our trumpet section in particular was one of the sections that needed a little attention in the beginning. In February, they did a sectional for two hours after school every Monday. The judges talked the most about how well the trumpets sounded. It paid off.”
Seventh-grader Abbie Blevins said she was excited to win first division.
“It felt really good because we worked really hard to get it,” she said.
Seventh-grader Michele Arteaga agreed, saying it came as a surprise to her.
“It felt good, but it was also shocking because I didn’t know if we had done well or not while we were on stage,” she said.
Seventh-grader Alessandra Moreno said one of the most challenging parts was all the effort the students had to put in this semester.
“It took a lot of effort for everyone to be here and on time,” she said, “and to have their instruments, binders and everything ready.”
Eighth-grader Shally McCarty said learning some of the notes and rhythms in the pieces was challenging.
“Some of it was pretty hard,” she said, “but we realized that we shouldn’t be so nervous. Region assessment isn’t that bad.”
Seventh-grader Zara Roque said her favorite piece was “Imperium.”
“I had an easy instrument to play for it, and the tempo and everything was fun,” she said.
Seventh-grader Daniella Arrizon said her favorite peice was “Liturgical Fanfare.”
“We also got to see our old band teacher, Drew Morris,” she said. “It was exciting that he was there, and we all got to say hi.”
Watson said the band will be performing the concert again at the Music for All Southern Regional Band Concert Thursday, March 29, in Russellville.
“It’s a huge deal. Music for All is a national program for the arts,” she said. “They’re sponsoring a concert band festival. Basically, the students will play the same program we just played, and then they get a 30- to 45-minute clinic with four to five incredibly famous band directors. They’ll actually teach the group instead of just having a tape recording of comments we listen to later.”
She said the band will also perform the concert again at its end of the year concert on Tuesday, May 15, in Berryville.
“The song ‘Darklands March’ is part of ‘Darklands Symphony,’ ” Watson said. “We will play the entire five-movement symphony for the end of the year concert. They’ve gone from playing one to two concerts a year to six concerts by the time they finish this school year.”
She concluded, “I’m really pushing them, and they’re really responding and stepping up to the challenge. Berryville is one of those special places where the kids just want to be great.”