Skip to main content

Midvale Journal

Midvale Middle orchestra puts heart and 20,000 practice hours into their state performance

Jul 13, 2020 12:33PM ● By Julie Slama

For the third year in a row, Midvale Middle School orchestra has performed at the state orchestra festival. (Photo courtesy of Alyse Mourdock)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

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

They performed three new pieces: “Arabian Dreams” by Soon Hee Newbold, “Hornpipe” by George Frideric

Handel, and “Castle Lore” by Robert W. Smith in addition to the provided 16 measures of “Chorale Prelude 10” by Johannes Brahms.

Midvale Middle Instrumental Director BJ Starks said that the orchestra students helped pick the pieces.

“We listened to a ton of music and decided on these pieces since they are both fun and challenging,” he said. “When students help choose the music, they’re more invested in it.”

Even though students had a bit of nerves leading up to their performance, Starks was pleased with how they played.

“They played well,” he said. “They have gotten better musically and put their heart into it. It was their best performance this year and I felt they gave it all they had.”

After their performance, the students worked with a clinician with what Starks said is a “world-renowned adjudicator” and professional violinist.

“That was a pretty unique experience for these middle school musicians. We spent time running over pieces, talking about bowing techniques and translating that to how they can work on it together. He really gave great tips, and they were helpful to me as well,” he said.

Two days after the state festival, they listened to the audio of their performance and reflected about their performance. The next day, the announcement came that schools were going on “soft closure” and there wasn’t an opportunity to take those tips to heart in their spring concert.

However, Starks continued to work with the students during the online school days, giving assignments, having them practice and reminding them of the tips they learned at the state festival.

Their state plaque and group photo has since been placed in the display case in the main hallway—without much celebration of their success there since social distancing is being encouraged during “soft closure.”

It was the third straight year Midvale Middle’s orchestra has been invited and taken part in the state festival. 

The 20-member group auditioned on tape in the winter with the provided chorale, “Symphony No. 1” by Johannes Brahms and their selection, “Emperor Waltz” by Johann Strauss. Then waited until February, when they received the invitation. Then, they worked hard leading up to the festival, practicing scales and rhythms, sight reading, going over all the basics and elements of their pieces.

They also had a chance to perform at Canyons School District festival on March 3 and incorporate the feedback they received to help prepare them for the state festival.

“The group was excited about going to state. They’re really self-driven and self-motivated, practicing on their own all the time and many of them, taking private lessons,” he said.

The two months leading up to the festival, the orchestra exceeded his practice goal of achieving 20,000 practice hours. 

“They want to learn and get better so took practicing to heart,” he said. “It’s a great group of students.”