By Pete Zamplas-Team cohesion, fulfilling roles, diligent practicing, recognizing and correcting mistakes, perfecting details, and summoning mind and muscle memory are pivotal.
Devotion, focus, precision and synchronization are paramount. It is also crucial to deflect pressure, harness adrenalin flow, shift into competitive overdrive, sustain full effort, and realize and repeat triumph.
These are ingredients for success play in local sports, the workplace, and one the most successful public high school programs in the nation — the New York City-bound Hendersonville High School Symphonic Band.
Fran Shelton has instructed and directed HHS bands for 27 years. She is like an athletic head coach. She critiques, challenges, and spurs on players. Senior Sawyer Heery plays trumpet. He shines in pressurized moments, by honing technique just as he did for the past three autumns in booting football field goals.
HHS’ advanced symphonic band and smaller concert band both will perform in fabled Carnegie Hall in New York on March 24, for over an hour combined. The 10-school showcase is the National Band and Orchestra Festival. The HHS Jazz Band will play at a reception, on a city cruise boat that night.
Ten years ago, a HHS band played in Carnegie Hall. Gaining the top judged score over much larger schools earned Apple Country’s star band an eventual return to the Big Apple. Hendersonville and Carnegie go back 100 years, to the city’s initial library. It opened in 1914, at King Street and Fourth Avenue. Industrialist Andrew Carnegie funded it, with a $10,000 grant.
Shelton said 107 of 130 symphonic band students plan to go to New York, March 22-25. They are raising money for this trip. People can buy a “Bearcats Take New York” tee shirt for $10, or tickets at $10 each for a drawing March 16. The prize is an $800 value — free Crooked Creek green fees for one, for a year. With merely 200 tickets printed, odds to win are 200 to 1 or better.
The drawing will be during intermission of a concert Sunday, March 16, which begins 4 p.m., Shelton said. That show wraps up a weekend clinic for the band by a scrutinizing, visiting professor. Another show in the HHS auditorium is this Sunday, March 9, 1-4 p.m. for free. It features current and alumni band members.
The main band fundraiser was last Sunday. The three HHS bands previewed their New York show, in Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium. They practiced such professional touches as an orderly procession to and from the stage, putting musical note folders on stands at once, retaining on-stage composure while playing and between numbers, and bowing in unison.
The symphonic band played Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” Jan Van Der Roost’s “Rikudim,” then four Israeli folk dances. Musicians filed to outside then many back in as the concert band, and did two numbers.
After the break, those in the jazz band played 10 pop hits. The group sounded smoothest on Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and The Ides of March’s bouncy, horn-swirling 1970 hit “Vehicle” as a rousing finale.
The receptive crowd included band parents who voluntarily loading gear and drive buses. “We couldn’t do this without them,” Shelton said. “They’re the backbone. They help us raise money. They feed the kids. They do everything.”
Other local bands shine. Yet HHS has trumpeted success and likely trumped bands of smaller public schools across the nation. The Bearcats got top trophies from the Kennedy Center in D.C. and symphonic halls in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and San Diego.
Shelton gets the band to keep improving, redoing numbers in practice. Her motto is “No excuses. Just results.” Several students said they understand her urgings. “She gets results,” freshman clarinet player Addison Kain said of honors.
Kain and her freshmen band friends Chloe Bossard (tuba), Victoria Escobar (clarinet) and Nila Goodson (flute) also play athletics, and two are studio dancers. They said band comes first, when schedules conflict.
Such many freshmen are the band’s “future,” Shelton said. The band graduated more than 30 seniors each in 2012 and ’13, and has merely 22 seniors instead of nearly 30 as usual.
“This young group works harder than most,” in practice, Shelton said. She commended the “work ethic and attitude,” when addressing the crowd Sunday. She told The Tribune “they play together, as a great ensemble. We solve problems as a group. They make sacrifices for one another.” In contrast, she explained, a “prima donna, like a ‘ball hog,’ could demand the limelight” such as by over-playing a solo. “They all have to be focused, synchronized and listen like crazy to each other.”
Solos are pivotal. “Part of being a performer is stepping up, when it counts,” Shelton said. “We’re not at that level quite yet. But once confidence gets high, they know they’re going to play well and they get even better. We have two weeks, to ‘hard core’ this” show.
Senior Ian Pugliese connected sound equipment for the Jazz Band, before playing baritone saxophone. Earlier he was among many outside between the first two band sessions, for about 10 minutes. He said he preferred to keep playing. Ben Fertik, freshman on tenor sax, also likes continuity. Some noted a challenge of dialing down energy in the break, then revving it back up when playing again.
But others relished the break, to refresh and regroup. Freshman trombonist Nicholas Hopkin said it helps when segments vary in musical style. Ethan Berry said “your lips tire on sax” after playing for a half-hour.
Staying calm is a challenge. Guinevere Rodriguez, a junior on clarinet, said she felt anxious when first entering. Noah Wagstaff said he calmed, once sitting. Fellow freshman trumpeter Tobin Capps said playing the first note did the trick.
“We talk about nerves,” said Shelton, who leads by example. “I don’t go there. I don’t get nervous. I stay calm and cool. I tell them being prepared makes you not nervous.” She said a person calms with confidence of recalling what music to play, and when and how to do so. “Know your responsibility, exactly. Make music. Don’t fight rhythm and notes. Enjoy playing, and have a great time.”