Months of lengthy rehearsals pay off for Symphonic Wind Ensemble at state-wide conference

February 9, 2024 — by Anika Kapasi and Angela Tan
Courtesy of Kristi Oberhauser
The Symphonic Wind Ensemble performs at CASMEC on Feb. 2.
Working with featured soloists and guest conductors, SWE showcased eight pieces at the annual California All-State Music Education Conference; select members also performed in All-State groups later in the conference weekend. 

Months of rehearsals culminated for the 59 members of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE) with a Feb. 2 performance at CASMEC held at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento.

SWE’s brass opened the 60-minute set together with the Homestead High Wind Ensemble I Brass, playing “Vienna Philharmonic Fanfare” by Richard Strauss. Performing eight pieces, the ensemble featured music educators as solo performers in compositions like “What We Saw There” by Matthew Vu and Emmanuel Séjourné’s “Double Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone.” Closing the set out with the finale of “Third Symphony, IV” by James Barnes and “Takarajima” by Hirotaka Izumi, the afternoon marked the culmination of the countless hours of hard work the ensemble dedicated to the performance.

According to music director Jason Shiuan, the pieces all vary in genre, time period and skill level, but together they aim to meld together differences and unite in music.

“The message of ‘musical friends are friends forever’ was the impetus for much of our programming ideas,” Shiuan said. “While [music director Michael] Boitz and I experience this [camaraderie and support] with many of the directors in this area, it’s not really a common thing in other parts of the state or country.” 

Shiuan believed showcasing the collaboration between student musicians and educators was essential, especially in a time when many “tend to pit themselves against one another.”

Following their acceptance in August, SWE began preparing their music during marching band season by regularly holding ensemble rehearsals during their designated class time and student-run sectionals after school. As the set list was solidified in January, guest conductors were rearranged for different pieces. SWE rehearsed with teacher soloists and the Homestead Brass during weekly Wednesday 6-8 p.m. rehearsals.

On Jan. 24, one week before the conference, SWE hosted a send-off concert at the McAfee Center, where they played their full set to simulate the performance procedure at CASMEC.

“I definitely think the overall endurance got better [at the send-off concert]. It was clear in the performance that both physically, our embouchure but also our mental focus lasted longer,” Shiuan said. “With the adrenaline of the performance, the [preview concert] helped the comfort level [of the set] be better.”

In their weeks of preparation, SWE also practiced with the mindset they were going to record their two staple pieces — “George Washington Bicentennial March” by John Philip Sousa and the finale of “Third Symphony, IV” by James Barnes — to apply for the 2024 Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference hosted from Dec. 18-21 in Chicago. The ensemble was rejected from the conference in 2023, but plans to audition again this year.

According to Shiuan, planning for music conferences like Midwest requires careful consideration for the year ahead. He aims to prevent auditioning with a qualified group one year and seeing the ensemble struggle the following year in the absence of skilled members who already graduated. Shiuan has known he has wanted to audition with the Class of ‘25 since the students’ freshman year and anticipates success with them this year.

12 members juggle SWE and All-State at CASMEC

During the conference week from Jan. 31-Feb. 4, 13 students from SWE — 21 students overall in the music program — performed with the audition-required All-State ensembles. After sending in recordings of the required excerpts and scales for their instruments, the musicians gained acceptance into the state-level groups in November. The SWE members accepted into All-State included two in Concert Band and four in Symphonic Band, as well as three in Symphony Orchestra and four in the Wind Symphony — the two highest-level All-State ensembles.

Senior flute player Eric Miao, first chair in the All-State Wind Symphony this year, said playing with All-State at CASMEC allowed for a deeper music understanding and a unique experience of fully immersing himself into music. 

“The music making is at a higher level because the conductor tells us what they want in abstract terms, and we have to figure out how we are going to play it,” Miao said. “It’s also very intense in terms of time. Every day [at CASMEC] is six or seven hours of rehearsal on the most busy days. You don’t think about school or anything else while you’re there. It’s your whole life for three or four days.”

Performing with both All-State and SWE, Miao had to balance both sets of repertoire during the conference weekend. He found that performing with SWE came more naturally to him because of the ensemble’s thorough preparation, allowing him to focus his energy on pieces for All-State. However, although the SWE repertoire became “second nature” to him, he still experienced fatigue from having to maintain energy through the lengthy All-State rehearsal in the morning and the SWE performance in the afternoon.

Nonetheless, the opportunity to perform with both All-State and SWE this year was a fulfilling experience for Miao.

“It was super great seeing a bunch of my friends from SHS after being away [at All-State] for a few days, and performing the music we worked so hard on and for so long,” Miao recalled. “It definitely feels different to perform with the people I’ve known and worked with for years.”

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