Symphonic Wind Ensemble prepares for statewide music conference

September 28, 2023 — by Anika Kapasi and Angela Tan
Courtesy of Isabelle Gecils
The Saratoga Wind Ensemble stands to take a bow during the 2023 Year-End Concert on May 25.
After being rejected from the Midwest Clinic last year, SWE was accepted into the 2024 California All-State Education Conference and is now preparing a diverse range of pieces.

The Symphonic Wind Ensemble (SWE), the school’s highest-level audition band, learned in August that they were accepted into the 2024 California All-State Music Education Conference (CASMEC), to be held from Jan. 31-Feb. 4 in Sacramento.

As one of the largest music education conferences in the country, CASMEC provides musicians and educators from high schools and universities across the state the opportunity to perform, learn from guest conductors and attend clinics to foster growth in their musicianship. SWE is one of only two high school bands that were accepted this year, outshining many college ensembles that also apply.

Music director Jason Shiuan anticipates that attending the conference will benefit students by providing them the opportunity to analyze other performing ensembles and giving them a target to help them reach their true potential.

“Whenever we have something to strive for, it really focuses the group and gives us an opportunity to push our limits of how much musical quality we can get in a short amount of time,” Shiuan said.

SWE, which has 59 members, applied to CASMEC after not making it into the highly competitive 77th Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference that is set to take place from Dec. 20-22 in Chicago. This year, only Saratoga Strings (SS) — the school’s highest level audition orchestra ensemble — was accepted.  

SWE applied to CASMEC in July with the audition pieces “Roma” by Valerie Coleman and “The White Rose” by John Philips Sousa recorded in spring 2023 for the Midwest Clinic, along with a recording of David Maslanka’s Symphony No. 7 from their 2022 Europe tour. They were ultimately admitted into the conference in August as the three pieces showcased their diversity and range as an ensemble, Shiuan said.

However, since the band was accepted with recordings aided by 29 members of the Class of ‘23 including Caden Lee, Allison Okuno, Woody Li, Petr Tupitysn, Anthony Wong and Dyne Lee, the new ensemble faces a substantial challenge to match the musical strength from last year’s group. 

To help bridge the gap, Shiuan has begun pushing the ensemble to prepare early and is holding 1.5-hour rehearsals every blue Wednesday after school and regular class rehearsals to prepare for the conference. 

Although there is an official confirmation process by CASMEC when determining repertoire, Shiuan plans for the students to play “Deep River” by Benjamin Horne, “George Washington Bicentennial March” by John Philip Sousa, “Song for UhmMA” by Soo Han and arranged by Shiuan himself, “What We Saw There” by Matthew Vu, “Takarajima” by Hirotaka Izumi and the finale of “Third Symphony, IV” by James Barnes.

“One important thing I needed to consider [when selecting the pieces] was incorporating music from a wide variety of perspectives and genres because it’s important for those hidden voices to be elevated too,” Shiuan said. 

For example, he included “Deep River” due to its historical significance in African American spiritual genres and because composer Benjamin Horne is not particularly well known to many educators. He also made sure traditional compositions from the 1900s like “George Washington Bicentennial March” were highlighted, along with modern pieces like “What We Saw There,” which was written two years ago by an Asian American composer. 

As part of  CASMEC’s attempt for inclusivity, the conference also strives to integrate repertoire that any level of music educators can find value in, which is why SWE’s pieces range from beginner band to university level.

Their anchor piece, Shiuan said, will be James Barnes’s “Third Symphony, IV,” a university-level composition well known to music directors. Few high schools actually approach the piece due to its complexity.

Despite time constraints, Shiuan also aims to feature teacher soloists in the music set to showcase the gigging potential of music educators. SHS percussion teachers Sean Clark and Chavadith Tantavirojn plan to perform Emmanuel Séjourné’s “Double Concerto for Marimba and Vibraphone” alongside the student ensemble. 

For “What We Saw There,” SWE’s performance will feature a group of eight high school and college music teachers; teachers include Lynbrook High School’s music director Michael Pakaluk, Homestead High School’s band director John Burn, Albany High School’s music director Craig Bryant, Sacred Heart Schools Atherton’s band director Jonathan Hostottle, music department co-chair of Cabrillo College Naoki Taniguchi, Cal State East Bay educator Aaron Shaul, Clark and himself.

Although one piece is still to be determined, Shiuan plans to bring in guest conductors Norman Dea, a teacher at California State University-East Bay and Dr. John Zarco, a former SHS music teacher who is now the director of bands at the University of Texas at San Antonio to conduct the wind ensemble during the concert.

“Everyone’s ears and priorities are different [while conducting pieces] so getting [our guest conductors] perspectives of the piece is really awesome to be able to,” Shiuan said. “We often all have the same end goal, but their different approaches [to the pieces] might be different, which is why I think they can take some of our pieces to the next level.”

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