I cannot say THANK YOU enough times. The first-ever Junior High Solo/Ensemble Festival on April 10 was incredible. I wish I could have recorded everything I saw going on. As a room monitor, this is what I observed:

• Nervous students, practicing, soaking reeds, warming up their voices, using the warm-up techniques they were taught, finding a corner in the school to practice and doing so boldly, surrounded by others who are doing the same — no timidness!

• Camaraderie between the students — a latecomer being greeted by a classmate who immediately started helping him get settled and get his instrument put together in time. 

• Focus! Students, who moments before were nervously giggling, were now staring down a hallway, measures of a hard note run being played in their head as their fingers played through the rhythms in the air. 

• (Slight) panic was usually present. “Mr. Leafblad, my tuba case was open.” “Ok...” “My tuba is not in there!” “Well, that is our first problem.” And off they’d trot to find the missing tuba.

• The humor that accompanied what these students viewed as HUGE problems, made them giggle – or at least breathe – and they were able to compose themselves and move on.

• Great givers of very valuable TIME – the volunteers supporting these incredible, hard working kids. They were maybe invisible to some busy students, but perhaps when they are asked to give of their time, they’ll remember how it felt to have that support. 

• Administration present, listening to performances and one even accompanying! Acknowledged or not, the students see this and know their leaders do care about them. 

• Talented, talented accompanists! This is often overlooked; and holy cow, their music is usually an eighteenth note run to their quarter note. And the ability they have to follow these young musicians is unbelievably valuable.

One of the worst feelings as a musician (and as an audience member, feeling their pain) is when you are off from your piano player.

These accompanists were pros with the ability to notice a measure was skipped or that this very nervous child introduced a brand new key to this piece. An accompanist (especially a good one) is one of a performer’s greatest gifts.

• Student helpers took on this assigned role with pride and a seriousness, which kept those classrooms organized and moving. These are the young people who will have great interviews, land great jobs and add great value to any team they are on!

• Parents, present at the contest or at home because they were pleaded with to not show up – “my nerves can’t take it!!” showed their support. Those lucky enough to be allowed in the performance rooms were given a gift.

And those parents who were unable to be there, or who knew their child would perform better without an audience, gave their child a great gift. Respect was present all over the place!

And these students will know that and will show that same respect to others throughout their life.

• Judges with professionalism, who taught our kids to take their music seriously and to realize it is a very, very cool thing – to own it! Each wonderful judge seemed to really find what this child did well, celebrated it, and used it to put some fuel on the fire that was already lit.

They would follow this up with gentle tips, criticisms, new techniques, perhaps a different way of thinking about how they played this phrase or that rhythm.

Everything offered was done so with kindness, and yet, the students left knowing these judges expected more. Work harder! Do your daily practicing! Push yourself! You have greatness in you!

• Those directors — they have their own lives, but still were somehow able to pull this off! To organize all these pieces, ensembles, solos — all the practicing and changes and schedules, and, oh yes, did I mention they also have personal lives?

You directors are such a gift to our kids. They are YOUR kids, too. They feel that. They get mad at you just as they would a parent. They love you just as they would a parent.

You experience all the lovely mood changes and hormones and attitudes that we parents do. And hopefully, you feel the gratitude and love that we do as well. We are grateful for your presence in their lives – and whether you see it or not, they are grateful, too.

• PRIDE — and not the negative connotation of this word, but a feeling of accomplishment, which starts in your heart and flows out, ever so beautifully, through each nerve until it fills every bit of your body — until it can’t be hidden and appears on our face.

Some tried to hold it back, giving a little nod or a corner of the mouth showing a little bit to us — but the eyes could not hide what they were feeling. Such an incredibly beautiful sight!

These are really incredible, talented, beautiful kids, and you have given them something that will fill their souls for a lifetime. I am forever grateful and hope this continues on FOREVER!

Lara Wold Mendez

happy band/choir parent

Spring Grove