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Two Hillcrest High student-musicians receive invitations to perform in Carnegie Hall

May 08, 2018 10:15AM ● Published by Julie Slama

While in San Diego for a competition, Hillcrest High’s big band and symphonic orchestra students toured the USS Midway. (Patty Smith/Hillcrest High School)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

When Hillcrest High School junior and percussionist Aidan Smith said good-bye to his dad at the curb at Salt Lake International Airport, he was looking forward to playing with his classmates at the World Strides Festival in San Diego. What happened beyond that performance took him by surprise.

On March 16, about 40 members of Hillcrest High School’s big band and symphonic orchestra took the stage at Cuyamaca College in San Diego as part of the 2018 World Strides Festival, which offers about 100 competitions in 25 cities.

“We played on stage in front of other bands competing and I remember thinking, ‘I wasn’t much more nervous than usual,’” Aidan said, even though at the regional jazz band competition, he dropped a stick, but was able to play without missing a beat and helped earned the big band perfect scores. 

With the symphonic orchestra up first, Aidan said that he thought the group played “pretty well” with having only three combined band and orchestra practices prior to leaving for the tour in addition to having a clinic the day before with San Diego State University’s orchestra director Michael Gerdes.

About 90 minutes later, the school’s big band took the stage.

“I thought it was the best we’ve played even though we were missing a trumpet player (who was unable to attend the tour),” he said about his first year with big band. “I’ve wanted to be in jazz band ever since I got to Hillcrest. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve improved a lot being in it. I love this sort of music.”

After both performances, an adjudicator held a mini-clinic on stage with the groups, orchestra teacher RaNae Dalgleish said.

“They said that the group (symphonic orchestra) needed to exaggerate the melody line, it was too subtle, and to work the musical passages to play together,” said Dalgleish, who conducted the group along with Hillcrest’s first-year band director Austin Hilla. “We can take those critiques and use those in our upcoming performances.”

The students also listened to other groups perform, said Aidan’s mother, Patty, who was a parent chaperone.

“Tour exposes kids to other talents from across the country and they learn what else is out there and their styles,” she said. “It also gives gets the kids closer and they become friends through these experiences and opportunities.” 

The students would have to wait two days to learn the judges’ marks. During the days in San Diego, students took in the sights, such as touring the USS Midway, visiting Balboa Park, checking out the animals at San Diego Zoo, eating in Seaport Village and Old Town, swimming in the ocean off Mission Beach and watching an orca or dolphin show at Sea World. 

“It was fun being able to hang out with friends throughout the trip, even though it all was not music related,” Aidan said about his third tour with the school. Previously, Aidan joined his classmates in a Boston-New York tour as well as one in Anaheim, Calif.

Dalgleish said that tours help students bond.

“Between being on a bus and doing activities, it builds camaraderie and teamwork and that results in the students performing better,” she said. “This also gives them an incentive to work toward awards and ratings and to compete against schools all over the nation.”

At the awards ceremony, both groups earned a silver rating, with big band narrowly missing gold. But what shocked Aidan was the announcement that he was named a recipient of the Maestro Award, as was his fellow musician senior Seth Dalgleish. They were two of eight students in the festival to receive the honor that could lead them to perform in Carnegie Hall or in Sydney, Australia.

“I was completely surprised. I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” he said.

This is a step toward his dream job of entering the music field to become a musician or teach music.

“This is my passion. I love being in bands and learning more instruments in my field,” he said, adding that he first started learning percussion in sixth grade before joining the symphonic band at Midvale Middle School in seventh grade.

When his mother’s friend, who plays drums, said that Aidan had talent, he dedicated more time to his passion, giving up other activities to take private lessons and in 10th grade, started learning the marimbas. This past year, Aidan and three of his friends formed a band and are scheduled to compete at state Battle of the Bands April 28.

Bass player Seth began taking piano when he was three years old, then added private bass lessons in seventh grade.

“This shows that they are good musicians and all the skills and techniques they’ve learned and built on their whole life paid off for that moment,” Dalgleish said, adding that both boys were floored by the award news. “We all were so excited for them.” 

Upon returning, Aidan and Seth took to the stage at the state jazz band competition where the school’s big band earned excellent marks. The wind ensemble earned straight superior marks and concert band got its best ratings ever with superior and excellent marks at region. Wind ensemble will play at state in early May. The orchestra was scheduled to compete in late April at region.

The big band also is scheduled to perform at its fundraising dinner dance gala this spring and will join other groups in Hillcrest’s spring instrumental concert Wednesday, May 23 at the school.

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