Every year, more than 15,000 students in Illinois spend extra hours practicing difficult music for the Illinois Music Educators Association district competition. Only the top musicians make it to state.
Those who qualify take on the task of learning more challenging music in hopes of making the honors choir, band or orchestra.
"There are two levels at state, the all-state level and the honors level," said John Heath, Batavia High School band director and past president of the IMEA. "Both groups perform at state and it is a tremendous honor to be in either group."
The competition continues within the state groups as students compete for the honor of being first chair or the section's principal player.
"In all of my years of teaching I have never seen so many first chair players from one place," Heath said. "In fact I can't even recall any other schools achieving it."
This year Batavia had four students holding first chair positions in orchestra at state.
Sam Pedersen not only took first chair viola in the state honors orchestra, he also holds that position with the Chicago Symphony Youth orchestra.
"I started playing the violin when I was five and then switched over to the viola," said the talented senior, who hopes to major in viola performance in college.
Sam admits to putting in many hours of practice but still has time for soccer and works as a soccer referee during the youth soccer season. He encourages kids to work hard to fulfill their goals, especially in music.
"I tell them, don't ever stop, just keep going," he added.
Rachael Miller, a junior at BHS, took first chair in the second violin section in the honors orchestra.
Rachael has also been playing since she was a young child and admits to being a bit of a perfectionist. She has played with the Elgin Youth Symphony. She was thrilled to get the first chair position and was excited to see that Batavian Emily Camras, who now attends the Illinois Math and Science Academy in first chair for the cello section.
I must say that I felt a bit old when I interviewed Connor Frederick. His family has been in Batavia for four generations. His dad, Pat, is the band director at Geneva High School. His mom, Beth, teaches fifth grade band in Geneva.
Connor was the principal trombone player for the honors orchestra. He admitted to picking the trombone out of love for his parents.
"I liked the sound of French horn, the trumpet and the trombone," he said. "One of my parents plays the trumpet and one plays the French horn. I didn't want to show a preference so I went with the trombone."
Connor plays with many youth bands and jazz bands. Somehow with all of his musical responsibilities, he still found time to take on the role of the Beast in last fall's BHS production of "Beauty and the Beast."
"I feel very fortunate to have had Mr. Heath as my band director," Connor said. "He is an amazing teacher."
Rachael Miller was quick to praise Maura Brown, BHS orchestra director as well.
"She puts her students and orchestra first," Rachael said. "She always has the time for us."
Indigo McGarr didn't get one of the coveted first chairs but the talented senior did make it to state. Indigo has been very busy in high school, playing violin not only in the orchestra but also in the marching band. She has played for the BHS musicals and recently played and created some original compositions for the winter play, "Great Expectations."
A special moment at All State this year was when John Heath took the podium to direct the combined finale.
"He conducted our state song, 'Illinois,'" said former BHS choir director, Lori Grant. "It was so beautiful it brought a tear to my eye."
Thousands of music students have gone through Batavia's music program. How fortunate we are to have teachers like John Heath and Maura Brown in our district. We can be so proud, as a community, and honor these students who have displayed such musical excellence.