June 24, 2022

WMS eighth-grade band and orchestra receive gold rating at festival

The Windham Middle School Band, shown here, along with
the Windham Middle School Orchestra, each received gold
ratings from judges during the Great East Music Festival at
the Methuen Memorial Music Hall in Methuen, Massachusetts
By Masha Yurkevich 

After coming to a halt because of COVID-19 during the pandemic, the Great East Music Festival is back up and running, and on Saturday, June 4, the eighth-grade Windham Middle School band and orchestra went to perform before a panel of judges, drawing strong reviews.

This year, the festival was held at Methuen Memorial Music Hall, in Methuen, Massachusetts and a total of 30 WMS students from band and orchestra took part in the event under the leadership of conductor Morgan Riley, WMS band, orchestra and choir director and music teacher.

“This festival is for each group to get the highest rating possible: bronze, silver, gold or platinum,” Riley said. “Each group goes home with a plaque indicating their rating.”

For nearly the past 40 years, the Great East Music Festival has provided engaging, high quality and memorable performances and experiences to schools across New England and beyond. The event is non-competitive and takes place in an educational atmosphere.

Following the performance, an adjudicator works with the group for about five to seven minutes, providing feedback and comments. Another judge then presents the award and offers any additional comments.

Riley said she’s been taking students to the Great East Music Festival for the past five years and each year, all of the groups have earned gold ratings. The last time they attended a Great East Music Festival was in May 2019 as COVID-19 halted the festival from being held for the last two years.

As their musical selections for the festival this year, the WMS band played an upbeat "March of Freedom", by John Edmondson and "The Best of Queen", a medley of three classic Queen tunes arranged by Paul Murtha.

The orchestra preformed "Viola Country" by Richard Meyer, featuring the fantastic viola section, and the slower, more lyrical "Colors of the Wind" from the Disney movie Pocohontas, composed by Alan Menken and arranged by Stephen Schwartz.

“The challenge this time was instrumentation for band,” said Riley. “COVID stopped us from playing wind instruments together all last year, causing many students to drop band class. We were lucky enough to have one musician on each instrument for this festival, but that left no room for error on the part of the students.”

The band used percussion instruments to continue musical studies during the previous school year (2020-2021).

This continued progress in rhythm reading and performing, ensemble skills, and playing parts independently, really helped them this school year, Riley said. The WMS Orchestra had a full complement of violins, violas and cellos.

“We hadn't performed for a live audience in two years, and it was wonderful to get back to it,” said Riley. “Both the band and orchestra did a wonderful job, and both received gold ratings from the judges.

According to Riley, Rose Underkofler, the orchestra and chorus teacher at Jordan-Small Middle School and Manchester School was key to the success of this trip as she helped prepare students for the festival.

After the music festival part of the trip, the band and orchestra visited Canobie Lake Park, in Salem, New Hampshire, to spend the rest of the day celebrating their wonderful achievement and success. <

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