Waubonsie Valley senior Wind Ensemble member Jill Elkins is ending her band career on a high note, even though the bassoon she plays sounds out low tones.
Elkins and 46 classmates in the school's most prestigious band won the Honor Band designation at this year's Illinois SuperState Concert Band Festival on May 5 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana. It was the first time in six SuperState appearances, and the first time in school history, that Waubonsie's band earned the honor.
The band won in the Class 4A category for the largest high schools in the state. The winning performance was a piece Director Mark Duker said many would shy away from.
"It felt great," senior clarinetist Claire Diefenderfer said of the band's performance, which judges ranked higher than those of eight other schools. "It felt like all of our hard work really paid off in that moment."
The Wind Ensemble's winning song was conductor John Corigliano's "Gazebo Dances," which he wrote in 1972 for piano and later rewrote for band and orchestra. Duker said he performed the 16-minute piece when he was a graduate-school trumpeter at Indiana University, but he never thought he'd conduct it for high schoolers.
The piece is complex and contemporary "but not weird contemporary," Duker said. "It's still very tuneful."
"Gazebo Dances" contains technical sections, phrases that are tough to tune and rhythmically tricky moments that would challenge even the best high school musicians. Duker said he believed the Wind Ensemble, which performed at last year's SuperState contest as well, was up to the task.
Members like Elkins felt the same.
"I've seen our band grow," Elkins said, reflecting on her four years in the Aurora school's top ensemble, within a district that has won 16 Grammys. "I feel like every year, our band's gotten even better."
In five weeks of rehearsals, which senior trombonist Jake Truckenbrod said were highly focused, the student instrumentalists learned and blended their parts. Diefenderfer said members pushed each other to commit the practice time necessary to play at a high level -- even while preparing for Advanced Placement testing, prom and a senior concerto or growing antsy for graduation.
Awards in music are highly subjective, so Duker said he's been careful to explain that the Honor Band title doesn't mean his students are the best band in the state -- just that they've earned the right to be proud of their performance.
The group isn't done yet with "Gazebo Dances" but is practicing to play it at least one more time. The finale is set for Thursday, during Waubonsie's Spring Band Concert & Awards at 7 p.m. at the school, 2590 Ogden Ave. The song might also get a run during the District 204 Fine Arts Festival, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 19.
Using feedback from the SuperState judges, the band spent Friday working with a metronome to keep the tempo consistent and perfecting challenging rhythms within the piece. Duker said the band is aiming to go out on that proverbial high note.
"The goal," he said, "is to make our home concert the best one."