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Honor groups: Opportunities for sharp musicians


Autumn is now in full swing, and that means one thing for musicians across California: audition season.

Students have the opportunity to audition for various honor groups comprised of the most talented musicians in the region, Northern California or the entire state.

“It’s a really cool music community, and above that, the musical experiences I’ve had are just absolutely amazing,” Carmel High junior flutist Olive DeLuca says.

DeLuca, a natural at playing advanced music, has been accepted into eight honor groups throughout middle and high school, and plans on auditioning for more. Four of those successful auditions were for statewide ensembles, including for CODA, a highly selective state orchestra, making her the only Carmel High wind player ever to be accepted.

The 2016 All-State Symphonic Band in particular made a lasting impression in her mind.

“Our conductor knew how to push people farther than they thought they could go, and we worked so hard, and everyone ended up being so dedicated and committed,” says DeLuca, who also notes that the people she met at All-State are still some of her best friends, and the pieces the group played are among her all-time favorites.

“We sounded amazing,” she adds. “It was really cool to be part of an experience that was so much bigger than myself.”

Kento Husted, a freshman violinist, is another successful 2017 CODA applicant—an accomplishment that is anything but minor.

“I want to experience what it’s like to be in [a statewide] honor orchestra,” Husted says. “It’s definitely not something everyone can do.”

Many set their sights on making CCS, the regional honor orchestra, band and choir. Approximately 30 percent of the CHS band and close to 50 percent of the orchestra audition; about 80-90 percent of those students are accepted, according to Carmel instrumental music teacher Brian Handley.

CCS ensembles are put on by the Central Coast Section of the California Music Education Association and organized by music teachers who donate their time to make the events happen, according to Marina High School teacher and CCS high school orchestra chairperson Maria Carney.

Carney explains that auditions for the ensembles are similar to audition processes for many college- and professional-level ensembles. Students from four counties submit recordings of themselves playing scales and excerpts designated by CCS. Those who are selected for the groups receive copies of the performance music in advance, practice their parts and participate in two days of group rehearsal leading up to the concert.

“It is amazing to see these very talented young people come together from so many different backgrounds, for such a short amount of time, and then to see them create such a beautiful musical result,” says Josh Mack, chairperson for CCS concert bands.

One facet of honor groups is the chance to perform with skilled musicians committed to their craft, which often encourages participants to strive for the next level of excellence.

“Practice becomes more purposeful after the honors events,” Carney observes. “Many students hear their peers from other schools and are inspired by others just as good or even better than they are.”

Another benefit is the opportunity to take notes from a new director. Highly qualified conductors, usually from the university level, are selected to direct each year’s ensembles, according to Carney. Students often come away with new techniques or mindsets to apply to their playing.

Above all, honor ensembles are instrumental in building connections and creating a community encompassing musicians of all walks of life.

“We’re all just one big universal brotherhood … of music-makers,” Handley says. “That community of musicianship doesn’t just exist within your circle of friends or your school. It’s greater than that.”

Mack adds, “My hope is that all of the participants feel welcomed into the ensemble, and that they truly feel that they have earned the right to be there. Hard work is not always rewarded, but when it is, make sure to take advantage and appreciate the moment.”



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  • Bravo! Encore! De Capo! What an inspiration!

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