Pacific Middle School Band Takes Gold in Heritage Festival in San Francisco

by Mysty Beal

Memorial Day weekend was cool in the Bay Area, which suited the Pacific Middle School Wind Ensemble members as they bussed from UC Berkeley to the south end of San Francisco. They popped in to get a final tune-up from the UC Berkeley Director of Bands, Robert Calonico. After an hour and a half of listening to their piece and providing advice, the students toured the historic campus and local neighborhoods. Then it was showtime, so they headed south to Foothills College, venue of the Heritage Festival.

Band Director Jeffrey Steen had his students listen as the other bands performed, and they filled out adjudication sheets as part of their grade. They judged based on the same criteria on which their performance would be judged. They listened as an 8th – 9th grade band from Cranbrook, British Columbia played Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, and some noted that the full instrumentation could not be heard, and that the brass overpowered the woodwinds. They watched a band from Mt Eden High School of California played an incredibly sophisticated piece, and they played it flawlessly. This band comes and sweeps the awards every year – this year they brought six different bands and several choir groups. Providing competition for them was neighboring Lake Washington High School from Kirkland. Other schools included La Center High from La Center, Washington; Brighton High from Salt Lake City, and California schools from Brea and Sherman Oaks. Pacific’s only competitor, the Parkland Band from Cranbrook was double their size.

Pacific’s 37-member ensemble played a Chorale by Bach, a short march, “El Capitan” and the beautiful “Jackson Lake Overture” by Spokane-area composer and teacher Mark Williams. The students were pleased with their performance and relieved that it was over. After adjudicating another band, they headed back to the hotel to decompress with a Pool and Pizza party.

The weekend was spent at the nearby Great America theme park – during the evening, they were ushered to a large pavilion for dinner and the Awards ceremony. When their category was announced, they listened as the Parkland Band received a Silver award, then heard the verdict on their performance: Gold, First Place! Gold reflected the quality of their performance and first place their standing against their competition. They bubbled outside for a group photo with the award before heading back to the hotel.

This was the fourteenth trip Mr. Steen has taken with his Wind Ensemble, which alternate between San Francisco and Anaheim – some trips have included the Pacific Choir. Although middle schoolers don’t typically make out of state trips to participate in these festivals, Mr. Steen believes the trip provides value, as he arranges for the students to meet with renowned clinicians such as Mr. Calonico of Berkeley, and they learn to critically listen to musical performances and adjudicate them. On a more practical note, they have to budget their money, adhere to an itinerary, and learn how to conduct themselves while traveling. Although Mr. Steen stresses the educational aspect of participating in the Festival, his bands have taken Gold 6 of the last 7 years.

The Pacific Middle School music programs include courses for entry-level band students, choir, strings and the Wind Ensemble for more experienced players.

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