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Draper Journal

Draper Park Middle band, orchestra take to the state festival stage—just before COVID-19 local outbreak

Jul 13, 2020 12:09PM ● By Julie Slama

Draper Park Middle School’s orchestra received the top mark in its performance at the state orchestra festival in March. (Photo courtesy of Jaime Amaya)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Three days before school buildings closed in response of COVID-19 pandemic, Draper Park Middle School orchestra took the stage at the state orchestra festival on the University of Utah campus.

The day before the soft closure, the band performed there as well—just hours before the festival was canceled, leaving the band groups that were to play on Friday out of luck.

“We were very fortunate we got to play,” Draper Park Instrumental Director Zach Giddings said. “As the band was sitting outside the warm-up room, I heard they were closing down Utah and anticipated any second, someone walking on stage and saying they wouldn’t allow Draper Park students to play. The kids were watching the governor on their phones, so they knew what was going on. It was a very different mindset going in.”

That includes the band receiving a last-minute invitation to perform.

When the two groups submitted their audition tapes over the winter, orchestra received an invitation to perform. It wasn’t until the week before festival when another band couldn’t make it, that Draper Park’s band was invited.

“I was absolutely excited and terrified,” Giddings said. “I had to talk to administration, get a bus, get a driver, check with parents and students asking if we should go. We were so fortunate that everyone was supportive; everything just fell into place. The band worked really hard on Monday. Then, with orchestra performing Tuesday, it meant the band had to practice on their own. I’m really proud of those kids. It was obvious they used their time well on Tuesday and although there were more nerves than usual, we prepared as well as we could.”

So well, that Giddings said their first two pieces on the state stage went “ridiculously good.” 

“We are so glad we got to perform, and I got to tell them on the bus that I was so proud of them,” he said. 

On stage, the group performed “Fanfare for the Third Planet” by Richard L. Saucedo, “Joy” by Frank Ticheli and “Vikings Victorious Concert March” by Chris Sharp. 

Their audition pieces included the provided measures of the “Chester” chorale as well as “Deck the Halls with Chips and Salsa” arranged by Ed Hucke.

He also said that the band’s clinic, which followed their performance, was with a well-known director in the country and provided feedback to help the student musicians.

“They were getting the best feedback from the best people in music, and I look at ways how I can become a better teacher,” he said. “I picked those pieces to give them something they could work on for a long time, but knew those pieces were obtainable. They also highlighted some of our strong sections, but they were still challenging for every section. The band is almost entirely made of seventh-graders, so next year, we should have more experience and likely to be more balanced and double in size.”

Along with the lack of opportunity to celebrate their success, the group also didn’t get the chance to participate in the Canyons School District festival, which was slated for March 24. 

The orchestra, however, had their district assessment on March 3, and used their superior rating to help prepare for the state festival.

After being invited from their audition tape, which included the provided chorale, “Symphony No. 1” by Johannes Brahms and their selected piece, “Afterburn” by Brian Balmages, the group looked at pieces that were more challenging.

“We found a ‘Danny Boy’ arrangement and that was a hit with everyone. It gave us a chance to show off what we could do,” Giddings said. 

Along with the “Danny Boy” arrangement by Harry Alshin, Draper Park orchestra performed “Arabian Dreams” by Soon Hee Newbold and “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” by JS Bach, arranged by Merle J. Isaac in addition to the provided 16 measures of “Chorale Prelude No. 10” by Johannes Brahms.

“It was interesting, the orchestra was more nervous than usual,” Giddings said before they performed at state, three days before the school buildings’ closure. “I purposely gave them a whole speech to help them relax. I told them they already made state and did all the hard work preparing. I said this is the time to celebrate and have a great time. And the kids were amazing. They performed very, very well. The best performance this group has ever given. I’m really happy for them.”

That performance earned the group a superior rating. It was the second time in recent history they have performed at state.

Their clinician also gave them “awesome feedback and compliments,” Giddings said. The clinician also helped them to understand the baroque style in their technique as well as “how to make it music, not just playing.” They also learned the brush technique, which made their staccato notes less harsh.

“State was a huge step forward for our program,” Giddings said. “I’m proud of their accomplishments. These students are working hard and having a good time while doing it.”