Florala High School concert band scores superior ratings at ABAMPA

Published 9:15 am Saturday, March 18, 2023

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The Florala High School concert band earned superior ratings for the first time in decades at the Alabama Bandmasters Association Music Performance Assessment in Enterprise on Wednesday, March 8.

Bands throughout the state meet in their respective districts at different locations. Each band performs three pieces of music for a panel of judges to be assessed and evaluated on the quality of their performance. Judges provide a live commentary on tape recorders during the performance and offer comments on the grading rubric. The judges’ rubric allows bands to see where they are at and how they can improve to better the quality of future performances.

“Receiving a superior rating from one of the judges affirms we are moving in the right direction as a band. It is a true honor anytime a band at MPA receives a superior rating. For us, it has been decades since this band has received a superior rating at this event. In a way, the students made history for our school and community,” Director of Bands Patrick Whitehurst said.

His high school concert band has 26 total students: 17 in seventh and eighth grades and nine from ninth through twelfth. He also has 25 fifth and sixth graders in a beginner band at W.S. Harlan Elementary School.

Preparations for the event began at rehearsal last summer. Whitehurst had a simple premise: go back to the basics.

“We have worked on developing our tone and played long tones on a daily basis since July. We worked on tuning, intonation, technique, balance and blend, musicianship, and also defined what a good band sounds like. They received their music in January and continued to reinforce our good habits and tone while rehearsing the music we performed at this event. When all is said and done, what really matters most about going to MPA is not to compete and get a high rating but to give the students a positive learning experience and show how much progress they’ve made. They also have fun throughout the entire process,” he said.

Florala’s three concert selections were “Touchstone March” by Fred Allen, “A Hymn of Remembrance” by Todd Phillips, and “Arabian Dances” by Roland Barrett.

“One piece is selected from a cumulative list based on the classification your band falls under. The other two pieces contrast with one another by the style of the piece. I believe every good band should learn how to play in a ‘march’ style, hence the reason why I selected Touchstone March. A Hymn of Remembrance is a lyrical piece or ballad and teaches the band to play in a singing-like or lyrical style. This allows them to be sensitive to each section while balancing, blending, and listening. This was a great piece to teach the importance of intonation. Arabian Dances was selected because it provided learning opportunities of technically challenging sections. It was also the most liked piece by the students of our entire program,” Whitehurst said.

His students were satisfied with their performance before they received their results. “I could tell they were proud of what they just did on stage and in the sight reading room. When I broke the news to them about what they achieved, they were so happy, jumped for joy, and gave a round of applause.”

Moving forward, Whitehurst is optimistic the experience will ignite a fire and passion of love for music, particularly with the band.

“I hope they will use the achievements of scoring a superior rating as a way to affirm they learned something and that they got better from doing this. I’d like their success to motivate them to keep going and strive to get better as a group. The more they perform together, the more we will continue to improve and hopefully have something really special here at Florala High School they can cherish and be proud of for years to come,” he said.

Eighth-grade clarinet player Caitlyn Hudson said she was shocked by the final results. “We thought we weren’t going to do that good at MPA. When the news was revealed to us, we were screaming on the top of our lungs jumping out of our seats happy.”

Whitehurst is in his first year as the Florala band director.

“I am grateful for the opportunity of leading the band program at Florala because of the great community, awesome administrators, and co-workers that all work together like a family. Most importantly, I get excited about teaching my wonderful students on a daily basis. They have been nothing but receptive, open, and willing to work hard not just to be good at what they do but because they truly love band. They love learning something new, and they love being with each other. We work as a team to be the best we can be and to strive for greatness always in everything that we do.”

He stated that he also learns from his students every day. “The amazing thing about being a music educator is getting to be a lifelong learner, and I learn just as much from them as they do from me. Music brings people together in a positive way, and that’s what I love about my job. I can’t think of any other job more rewarding than getting to make music with my students.”

For more information email patrick.whitehurst@cov.k12.al.us or visit the Florala High School Marching Pride Facebook page.

“Proud is an understatement. I am ecstatic for the students and what they accomplished this year and am excited to see where the program will go from here. At this point, things are just getting started,” Whitehurst said.