“It was a miraculous afternoon.”
That’s how Princeton High School choral director Mark Potvin described last Thursday afternoon, referring to a performance of the school’s Symphonic Winds and concert choir at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The choir, under the direction of Potvin, and the band, under the direction of Jim Baxter, had been invited to perform at the convention center as part of the annual Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) convention. The choir had performed at the MMEA convention before, but this was the
first time for a PHS band to perform. This was also the first time that the school has had both the band and choir selected to perform on the same MMEA convention program.
There was a glitch getting to the convention center because not all of the coach buses expected to transport the band and choir members to the performance arrived at PHS that morning, Potvin said. But PHS activities secretary Debbie Jenson scrambled to get regular school buses lined up to bring the band and choir students there. The mix-up caused about an hour delay in the start of the ride to Minneapolis, Potvin said.
That note about the transportation has relevance to the concert. Potvin said the delay meant the performing music students didn’t have as much time to prepare once down at the convention center. For one thing, Potvin usually has his concert choir members warm up their vocal chords and in the rush to get everything ready for the 1 p.m. performance, that was forgotten, he said.
But the students put on their “game faces” and performed professionally, Potvin said.
Baxter said he thought the band also did a wonderful job. The Symphonic Winds members showed up (in mind as well as physically) and were engaged the whole time in the music, Baxter said.
“They weren’t just playing notes and rhythms. They were playing music,” he said.
Potvin, listening to the Symphonic Winds perform at the concert, said that in his 12 years as PHS choral director he has never heard a PHS band sound as great as it did during that concert – especially during a six-bar passage that came to an enormous crescendo in the band’s piece called “Rest.”
Baxter said that the “Rest” piece by Frank Ticheli was the most difficult one in the band’s concert program, and that he thought the band performed it “extremely well.”
The other pieces the band performed by itself were “Xerxes,” by John Mackey, “Toccata,” by Alfred Reed, and “Miss Trombone,” by Henry Fillmore and arranged by Nicholas J. Contorno. The band’s trombone players soloed in front of the band during “Miss Trombone.”
Percussionist Isaiah Mayerchak soloed on the marimba during “Toccata,” an instrument that the program notes called the “queen of the mallet percussion instruments,” and which called for Mayerchak to play with two mallets and four mallets.
The band played its four individual pieces first and then the PHS concert choir performed, singing six movements of a composite mass. It meant each mass had been written by a different composer and were each from a different time period. The movements were “Kyrie” from Missa super “Dixit Maria” by Hans Leo Hassler, “Glory to God” from Messiah by G.F. Handel, “Credo” from Missa Brevis in F Major, K.192 by W.A. Mozart, “Zum Sanctus” from Deutsche Messe, D. 872 by Franz Schubert, “Agnus Dei” from A Little Jazz Mass by Bob Chilcott, and “Let Everything That Hath Breath” by Jeffrey Ames, which featured a spirited solo by first-year singer Charles Stuckey III. Molly Savage, Danielle Pieles, Vincent Steele and Mayerchak performed solos during “Credo.”
After the band and choir had completed their individual pieces, the band and choir performed a piece together that PHS had commissioned, called “Let Me Be a Seeker of Knowledge,” by Michael Halstenson. It was the world premier of that piece. The words for the piece were from the pledge of the Odyssey of the Mind program. It goes: “Let me be a seeker of knowledge. Let me travel uncharted paths. Let me use my creativity to make the world a better place in which to live.”
A note at the end in the concert program states: “The students and staff of Princeton work daily towards developing lifelong musicianship, knowledge of the art, and substantive character through these words, and three more: Believe. Work. Achieve.”
The concert booklet had detailed notes about each band and choir piece, as well as the combined performance piece.
The notes for the “Miss Trombone” number state that the composer, Fillmore, was most fascinated by the slide trombone as a musical instrument, and likely wouldn’t have gotten to play it as a child if his father had his way. It goes on that Fillmore’s father considered the trombone “too evil for any righteous person to play.” But Fillmore’s mother believed that practicing the trombone might keep Henry out of mischief, and so she secretly saved enough money to buy a secondhand instrument for her son. “Lucky for him, it was to bring Fillmore fame and fortune…” the notes state.
Baxter said that getting accepted to perform at this event was “a nice opportunity for the students to perform at a superior level…and a great lesson for the rest of their lives.”
After the concert, he said he told the Symphonic Winds players that they should consider it their most memorable experience in their high school years.
Baxter, before the event, talked about education being the backbone of the musical performances.
“It’s not just a concert (though) no concert is just a concert,” Baxter said.
It is instead a “progression” of the school district’s music education that we teach every day, he said.
Baxter noted that after receiving the invitations to perform at the MMEA convention, “we explained to the students what a huge event this is in the music world.”
It took a lot of extra effort to prepare and that neither he nor Potvin would have been able to achieve it without the students work ethic, energy and enthusiasm.
Potvin called the MMEA concert the end of a 13-month process of preparing, and that it completed what he called a “triple crown” achievement for the PHS concert choir.
The first leg of that was the choir performing in the choral arts finale in Orchestra Hall last spring. The second was the concert choir singing during last fall’s American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota at Bethel University, and the third leg was the MMEA concert last Thursday.
“It’s rare for a school to have two ensembles selected for the MMEA event,” Potvin noted. “We happened to be solid enough in the audition.”
PHS allowed all of its music students to attend the concert and the district provided the buses.
Participants in the concert performance besides the band and choir members were 2012 PHS graduate Thomas Crawford, who played string bass and electric guitar for the band, and six musicians playing with the concert choir. The six included former PHS band director Lee Peterson, now teaching instrumental music at Annandale High School, playing on percussion, and Princeton resident Maureen Putnam, who played piano. The other four were in a string section – Sarah Dahl, Phoebe Dalton, Marion Judish and Jennifer Wildeson.