PILOT MOUNTAIN — Becoming a successful school band requires individuals learning to be proficient with a variety of instruments, then taking the extra step of applying those sounds to a team effort that produces great music.
The East Surry High School Concert Band, under the direction of Matthew Trice, apparently has found the right formula for this, as evidenced by its earning of a superior rating at a recent district-wide event held at J.E. Broyhill Civic Center in Lenoir.
And not only did it achieve that rating during the 2016 edition of the annual Music Performance Adjudication (MPA) contest, the East Surry band has now done so for the third year in a row — a testament to the level of continuity required.
No other concert band in Surry County has achieved this mark in recent memory.
“That might be the first time it’s ever happened in Surry County,” said Trice, who is in his fifth year as ESHS band director.
The East Surry Concert Band seemed to thrive in the daunting atmosphere of the 1,000-seat J.E. Broyhill Civic Center, where about 60 high school bands from the state’s Northwest region assembled as part of a three-day competition. In all, the contest spanned six days, three set aside for the high school bands and three for mostly middle school groups.
Trice described the bands’ appearance there as being similar to the end-of-course or end-of-grade testing students undergo for academic subjects — only in this case the evaluation involved musical proficiency.
The 2016 MPA gathering in March was sponsored by the North Carolina Bandmasters Association in conjunction with the North Carolina Music Educators Association.
Bands involved hailed from an 18-county area covered by the Northwest District Bandmasters Association.
About 50 students from both East Surry High and Pilot Mountain Middle schools made the trip, said Trice, who is director of bands at each. This included 36 from the high school, with the event serving to give the middle schoolers a taste of what’s involved with high-level competition.
The format required the East Surry band to first perform three prepared pieces of music, one of which had to be a concert march.
“There is a panel of three judges,” Trice said, explaining that panelists tend to be highly regarded people in their field, such as retired high school band directors or present college band directors.
“After that, they give us a (numerical) score,” he said of the initial portion of the process.
For it, the ESHS group’s selections were “Newcastle March” by Johnnie Vinson, “Thunderscape” by Erik Morales and “Conquering Spirit” by Ed Kiefer, according to information from Trice.
Later came another requirement that tested the flexibility and capacity of East Surry band members to learn material in a short time.
This involved going to another room where the group was given a piece of music it had never seen before. The director and students had five minutes to rehearse it, a practice known in the musical world as “sight reading,” before playing the piece for a fourth judge.
The four judges subsequently assigned each performing band one of five ratings: superior, excellent, average, below average and poor.
Not only did the East Surry Concert Band gain the superior tag for the third-straight year, it also had the opportunity to watch other bands perform after its time in the spotlight.
Overall, attending the MPA event was an eye-opening experience, as noted by senior band member Kaitlin Stevens.
“It especially makes younger players realize how much work it takes to perform at a higher level,” she said in a statement.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.