First MENC Honor Ensembles Perform During Music Education Week in DC

After the concert the three honor groups gathered outside the Kennedy Center. 

On June 27, the spectacular Concert Hall at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC buzzed with excitement. MENC leaders, music educators and family members were on hand for the inaugural MENC National Honor Ensembles concert.

The 2010 MENC National Honor String Ensemble, Concert Band, and Mixed Choir performed at this special event as part of MENC’s Music Education Week.

MENC President Scott C. Shuler said: “You are about to hear an example of one of the results that comes from music education – a fine performance by exemplary students from around the United States.

“As you listen to the artistic product of these fine young people, I’d like you to remember what their accomplished playing represents. It represents their hard work as student musicians who have been nurtured within a system that allows them to develop an individual sense of discipline and striving for quality.

“It is a system that…encourages the development of the creative spark within all our children. … We need to make certain that all students in our nation today get the comprehensive education, including music taught by exemplary educators that will help each and every one of them succeed tomorrow,” Shuler said.

Dennis M. Layendecker, director of orchestral studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, rehearsed and conducted the 25 young musicians from 18 different states who made up the string ensemble.

Layendecker said he was pleased to welcome the audience to “one of the great performance halls in our country. I can’t tell you how very proud I am of these young people.” Their program included “Lament for String Orchestra”  by Bridge and Bartók’s “Rumanian Folk Dances.”

Randy Brooks, a string bass musician from Summit High School in Bend, OR, said the experience of rehearsing for the concert was “amazing” because he worked with so many talented musicians: “It is so exciting to be here and have this experience.” His music teacher is MENC member Jeff Simmons.

The MENC String Ensemble in rehearsal.

Anthony Maiello conducted the concert band in a program that included “Festive Overture” by Dmitri Shostakovitch. The band had 58 students from 27 states.

Percussionist Josh Wilhelm from Grove (OK) High School said he enjoyed working with Maiello, who expected good work from the students but also made rehearsals fun. The lively “Festive Overture” was Wilhelm’s favorite piece on the program. “It was an amazing experience, working with [Maiello],” he said. “Everyone wanted to do their best. The music was challenging.” And he made friends with others in the percussion section who came from New Jersey, Montana, and South Carolina.

Wilhelm, whose teacher is his dad, MENC member Joe Wilhelm, said the students were not intimidated by playing in such a famous venue. “When you looked at the hall during rehearsal it looked big but once you start playing all you focus on is the music,” he said.

André J. Thomas, the Owen F. Sellers professor of music choral education at the Florida State University School of Music in Tallahassee, directed the MENC National Honor Mixed Choir. The program featured choral pieces from Handel, Mendelssohn, and an arrangement from Thomas called “Until I Found the Lord.”

The choir also sang Davison’s “Ritmo,” which the choir performed with rhythmic hand claps and snapping fingers. Thomas called the program a “world tour” of music.

Members of the Mixed Choir get familiar with the music.

Sitting in the audience, Kelly Stuckey watched her son Allen sing in the mixed choir. Her family traveled to Washington, DC from Cobb, CA to watch Stuckey, a first tenor, perform. “When he called to tell me he made the choir, I just started screaming,” she said. “We are all so excited. I know this has been an amazing experience for him.”

As she rushed with other parents who wanted to speak with their children after the concert, Stuckey paused to add, “He has such a wonderful music teacher, Mrs. [Cynthia] Radford. She is our music program. The kids wouldn’t have a program without her. I can’t say enough about her and what she does for our kids.”

Radford, who helped Stuckey rehearse before his trip to Washington, DC, said she was proud of her student: “He is a wonderful singer, but also a wonderful young man.”

MENC Events produced the 2010 MENC National Honor Ensembles, coordinating student itineraries, music distribution, and onsite logistics. In addition to rehearsing for the concert, the students attended MENC’s Rally for Music Education on Capitol Hill, visited the U.S. Capitol, and toured Washington museums and monuments.

The MENC National Honor Ensembles will return to Music Education Week in 2011. Information about 2011 applications will be posted on the MENC website.


Members of the 2010 National Honor Ensembles

Music Education Week

Roz Fehr, July 1, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education

Photos by Becky Spray