Marching bands and jazz ensembles have their competitions, but the concert bands -- recognized as the backbone of a school's music program -- rarely perform outside their own auditorium.
Musicians at Hersey High School in Arlington Heights aimed to change that, when they organized the Chicagoland Concert Band Invitational 11 years ago.
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This year's event is 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today at the school, 1900 E. Thomas Ave. in Arlington Heights. Admission is $8 for adults and $3 for students.
"The focus is to provide students with a high-quality, educational music experience in a noncompetitive environment," says Scott Casagrande, Hersey band director.
Bands are given input on their performances by a panel of college music directors, as well as a 30-minute clinic following their set with Jim Keene, retired director of bands from the University of Illinois or Mallory Thompson, director of the wind ensemble at Northwestern University.
Concert bands from 25 middle and high school programs will be featured, including special performances by the University of Illinois British Brass Ensemble at 3 p.m. and the University of Evansville Wind Ensemble at 8:45 p.m.
Local schools participating include: Elk Grove, Buffalo Grove, Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Fremd, Maine South, Libertyville and Oswego high schools; as well as River Trails, Carl Sandburg, Thomas and MacArthur middle schools.
To see the schedule of performances, visit herseyband.com/Fest/schedule.html.
Matt Moore, band director at Fremd High School in Palatine, will direct his wind ensemble at 4 p.m. Like the other concert bands, Fremd will perform three pieces, demonstrating their range of musical abilities.
They open with what Moore calls one of the "war horses" of band literature, "Trittico," composed by Vaclav Nelhybel in 1963 for the University of Michigan band. Its brass-driven, fanfare makes a statement, Moore says.
Band members then move to a more lyrical piece, "Walls of Zion," composed in 2003 by Greg Danner, before closing with their most difficult selection of the day, "Give Us This Day." It was written in 2007 and features a fast-driving opening, with a more melodic middle section and finishing in dramatic fashion.
Moore says the chance for his concert band to travel off-campus and perform in a festival judged by college music professors, makes it a highlight in their semester.
"It's taking their music to the next level," Moore says. "These clinicians talk to the students like they're college musicians."