Oxford High School’s wind ensemble and symphonic band have achieved quite a feat.
Both groups scored straight 1’s at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) state festival held Friday and Saturday at the high school’s Performing Arts Center.
“I was shocked and very, very happy,” said Oxford Band Director Jim Gibbons. “I was happy for the kids. It shows them that their effort is paying off . . . That’s the big thing. They can make the connection between their hard work . . . and the fruit of that labor.”
Eighteen bands and orchestras from 15 schools participated in the festival. Each group performed two pieces. A panel of three judges evaluated the groups and rated them on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being the highest rating possible.
Not only did the 65-member wind ensemble receive a 1 from each judge, it also received straight A’s.
“That’s unusual,” Gibbons said.
He explained each judge awards letter grades of A through E in five categories – tone, intonation, rhythm, technique and interpretation.
Having the wind ensemble receive 15 A’s is “a pretty big deal,” according to Gibbons, “because the standard is much higher at state (festival) than it would be at district (festival).”
“At district festival, I’ve had bands get straight A’s,” he said. “Last year, both the wind ensemble and symphonic band got straight A’s at district festival. (But) at state festival, I’ve not had a band get straight A’s. That’s a really good score.”
To earn its straight 1’s, the 55-member symphonic band received 13 A’s and 2 B’s from judges.
“That’s incredible,” Gibbons said.
According to Gibbons, both groups are successful because in addition to possessing a strong work ethic, they’re “open to being challenged.”
“That’s a really big thing,” he said. “I could give them hard (to play) music, but if they’re not open to accepting the challenge from me as a teacher, they’re going to fall flat on their face . . . It’s their effort and their commitment to being good that really makes a big difference.”
Gibbons, who has been with the school district since September 1998, noted this is the first time during his tenure as band director that he’s taken two groups to the state festival, let alone have them both earn straight 1’s. He said this is “uncharted” territory for the band program.
Oxford Middle School’s eighth-grade orchestra, conducted by Director James Berezney, also enjoyed success at the state festival. The 38-member group received a 1, 1, and 2 from the judges, giving it an overall rating of 1.
“I’m beyond proud,” said Berezney, who noted this was the first time an OMS orchestra has participated in the state festival.
Two of the judges gave the eighth-grade orchestra straight A’s, while the third judge’s marks consisted of two A-’s, two B+’s and a B.
Berezney said he “wasn’t surprised at all” by how well his students did.
“They step up for performances and concerts,” he said. “They play their best at the concert. They don’t peak too early in rehearsal.”
Berezney believes the group’s high score is a result of the countless hours of practice the students have put in to “improve and hone their skills.”
“You hear the improvement every single day,” he said.
Berezney’s been working with these students since they were sixth-graders. He described them as a “cohesive group” that’s really “bought into the team aspect” of being an orchestra.
Because of this, Berezney said they’re “not intimidated” by the “competitive atmosphere” of a festival. They “rise up” together to meet the challenge, he said.
This was the first time Oxford has hosted the MSBOA state festival.
“It actually saves the school district money because they don’t have to pay for buses to send us (elsewhere). They would have had to pay for three different groups to go (this year),” Gibbons said.
It’s beneficial for Oxford students because “they get to play in their own auditorium,” he noted. “And we’re guaranteed to play in a good auditorium.”