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Record 16 orchestra students make Region Orchestra


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That’s the best word to describe the orchestra, which saw an all-time high 16 members qualify for the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) Region Orchestra.

“Please help me congratulate these students,” Orchestra Director James Caswell said.

The Region Audition was on Oct. 21. Sixty-four thousand students competed in 33 TMEA Regions across the state, with the ultimate goal of getting one of the just over 1,700 slots for the All-State Orchestra.

“Making all-region is this weird dual feeling because of course, I was happy to make it and excited to perform with the orchestra in November, but also, you know you can’t exactly celebrate yet because All-State comes right on the heels of All-Region,” senior Katherine Perks said. “So even though I was mentally done with the etudes, I still had to practice them for state, and that’s the hardest part of making region every year.”

The musicians performed “cuts,” or sections, of pieces that they had practiced since summer. The judges, behind curtains, listen and rank each performer, while the other students await their turn in the same room.

“I was pretty nervous,” sophomore Ivan Pua said. “My hands were shaking and everything. I knew most of the people I auditioned with, so knowing that my friends are just watching me play is kind of nerve-wracking.”

There are three stages to the competition. First, an audition process determines the All-Region Orchestra. This year, 16 students from McNeil were in the top ranks and made All-Region: Laura Lee (10), Jennifer Cho (10), Yoori Yoon (10), Katherine Perks (12), Michelle Koh (10), Jacqueline Kim (10), Audrey Wu (9), Sophia Nelson (11), Tsai-wei Lin (10), and Ivan Pua (10) on violin; Cynthia Han (9) on viola; Lucy Yan (9) and Sarah Lee (11) on cello; Joseph Vieira (9) and Chris Luedke (10) on bass; Catherine Wu (10) on harp.

Hours of practice went towards preparing for the competition, and it paid off for these students. For some, it was the first time they made the cut. For others, like Pua, it came as a surprise.

“I made it in middle school,” Pua said. “But, I mean, high school is a lot harder. When I went in to audition, I wasn’t too happy with how I played. I didn’t think I’d make it.”

The next step was All-State auditions Oct. 29. The recordings were sent in to be  reviewed. The already nerve-wracking experience is augmented by the period spent reviewing the auditions, nearly a month. The students can only wait and hope that they will qualify for the honor of All-State Orchestra.

“Typically, there are two excerpts chosen from etudes for the All-Region audition, but for state, you have to learn the entire two etudes, in addition to four excerpts from the piece chosen for that year’s All-State orchestra performance,” Perks said. “This year those excerpts came from Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.”

From there, in the most selective cut yet, the highest-ranking students qualify for the third stage: participation in the annual state TMEA Clinic/Convention and All-State performance. There, they get exposure to well-known conductors and other skilled musicians.

“I really want to make the All-State Orchestra because it would be such an amazing experience to play great music with some of the best musicians in the state,” Perks said. “It would be especially rewarding considering all the time and energy spent practicing for it. Even if I don’t get in, the five-month long audition prep and process itself has made me a better musician and I’m grateful just to have made it through this far.”

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The student news site of McNeil High School
No Strings Attached