Nearly 600 students from District 10 converged at Thomson High School in December for the Georgia Music Educator's Association High School District Honor Band auditions. The students competed individually for seats on the District Honor Band.
Fourteen Thomson students won chair seatings, three were selected as alternates and three earned the honor of advancing to compete at the state level.
"I think it's incredible," THS band director Emme Hines said. "We had the most we've had to make it in a while. I was ecstatic about the results. The kids worked hard. We always say they keep getting better and better every year."
The students had to perform memorized material and sight read in front of a panel of judges.
"Being in that room by myself, I was shaking so bad," Senior Jasmine Lott said. "I was like, 'Okay calm down, Jasmine, and start playing. And don't forget to breathe.'"
Although Jasmine has been playing the clarinet since she was in the sixth grade, this was her first time to get up the nerve to participate in the auditions. When she heard that she'd earned 15th chair, Jasmine said "I was glad I did it."
The memorized material to be played by each student consisted of 12 major scales and arpeggios and the chromatic scale, a big feat for even the most experienced.
"I can play with the whole band, but by myself it's different," said senior Andrea Culpepper, who has made the district band twice on the trumpet and twice on the French horn. "Practicing all those skills to get it perfect, and then get in the judging room and freeze up and forget it all is nerve racking. I thought I did horrible, but apparently not."
This year, Andrea earned the eighth chair for the French horn. Her classmate, Jessica Harris, also has made the district band every year as a clarinet player. Jessica, who lives by the philosophy that "the more you practice or do something, the better you get," also will advance to the second round of the all-state band competition in January at Warner Robins High School.
"I tried to make a chair higher than the year before, it has always been my goal to do that," Jessica said. "I made 15th chair last year, but moved to sixth this year. We worked harder this year than we ever have."
And although senior Aaron Dixon didn't make a chair at all, he still accomplished his goal. The percussion player said he auditions every year "even though I never really want to," so that he can learn something and make improvements. Aaron said he normally favors the mallet or timpani, but auditioned with the snare drum. In the audition, the judges told how his technique could be improved. In spite of all the reasons why he should not have made it, Aaron earned an alternate chair for the district band.
"It's okay with me that I only made alternate, because I significantly improved on the snare drums," he said. "It's a big thing with me in anything I do, my main goal is to make improvements."
The students will go on to Evans for a district band clinic in February. They will spend two full days practicing for a concert to be performed on the third day.
"District is awesome, because you get to watch a professional band first," senior Tim Pounds said. "That gets you in the mood. Then you are ready for the two-hour rehearsals. It's more challenging than regular band, because it's a higher quality of players. The music is a little tricky at first."
Freshman Hannah Welch knew she had arrived last year when she made the District Band and attended the first rehearsal.
"Everyone sight read through it and played it perfectly the first time," she said. "So, it's different than regular classes. I was like 'whoa.'"
Hannah, who also plays the guitar, said a love of music runs in her family. She frequently plays duets with her father, who plays "any instrument he can find, but he plays the guitar all the time." So, auditioning in front of judges at the high school was no problem for her.
"The hardest part was getting up early in the morning on a Saturday," Hannah admitted.
And in the end, it was all worth it.
"I've made All-District Band in seventh, eighth, and now ninth grades," said trombone player Ethan Dowler. "It looks good on applications, plus it helps me get into other things like the Jamfest at UGA. And if I can get it every year, maybe I can get a scholarship. Every year, it gives me confidence for the next year."
Thomson students who earned chairs at All-District Honor Band:
Jessica Harris (6th chair clarinet), Rachel Myers (7th chair clarinet), Jasmine Lott (15th chair clarinet), Colton Drain (3rd chair trumpet), Andrea Culpepper (8th chair horn), Tim Pounds (1st chair trombone), Kevin Keister (5th chair baritone), Ryland Shipman (3rd chair auxiliary percussion), Aaron Dixon (2nd alternate mallets), Kenneth Loper (3rd alternate alto sax), Xavier Stockton (4th alternate flute), Taylor Whitaker (13th chair clarinet), Caitlin Carpenter (16th chair clarinet), Ashley Bingnear (18th chair clarinet), Aaron Matt McHatton (6th chair trumpet), Hannah Welch (8th chair horn), Ethan Dowler (4th chair trombone).