Metea, Waubonsie reach Grammy semifinals
The recordings are in the mail and it's up to the judges to determine whether Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley high schools in Aurora will remain in the running for one of the nation's top awards for public high school music programs.
Both are among 120 semifinalists in the Grammy Signature Schools contest, chosen based on judges' review of information about the classes, extracurriculars, participation, support and repertoire of their music programs. To make it this far already reflects well on both schools, said Mark Duker, fine arts department chairman at Waubonsie.
"We're a semifinalist as a school, not just as a music department," Duker said.
Other suburban semifinalists include Batavia High School, Elk Grove High School, Jacobs High School in Algonquin and York High School in Elmhurst.
Grammy judges now will evaluate five minutes of recordings from each semifinalist, recordings that were difficult to choose, said Don Devany, fine arts department chairman at Metea. Finding the "absolute best" of what students have performed during 2014 in four categories -- band, orchestra, choir and other ensembles -- requires patience, but it also reminds educators of the talents of their students.
"It forces us to take some time and reflect on a year of music making at our school and listen to all kinds of recordings," Devany said.
Recordings featuring vocal jazz ensembles, cello choirs, steel drum bands, marching bands and more traditional choirs, orchestras and bands all were under consideration among "diverse" offerings at the schools, both in Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
"What we're getting to listen to is our students performing some really incredible things and performing at a very high level," Duker said. "It's a blast to listen to that."
Music educators at Metea and Waubonsie hope Grammy judges also have a blast reviewing recordings, which are a major element of the application. Finalists will be announced in mid-March, and all schools reaching that level will receive a grant between $1,000 and $10,000 to support their music programs.
Should they make it, it won't be the first time a school in District 204 has received the honor. Waubonsie has been a Grammy finalist seven times and a semifinalist three additional times. Neuqua Valley High School has been the top Grammy winner in 2013 and 2005 and has reached the finalist level seven other times. Duker said the only reason Neuqua isn't in the running this year is because the school is required to take two years off after winning the contest outright in 2013.
Metea, which opened in 2009, was a semifinalist last year, and Devany said progressing to the next level would be an honor.
"It would provide tangible evidence or recognition of the outstanding work that our students do and the quality of music education here in (District) 204," Devany said.
Metea principal Darrell Echols said the work of the 880 students involved in the music program impressed him during a recent show in which nearly all of them performed together.
"Our teachers do tremendous work in that music program as demonstrated by our 'Collage' holiday concert last week," Echols said. "At one point we had 870 students performing on the stage at once and it was just unbelievable."
Among accomplishments of Metea's music program are recent performances in Hawaii by the marching band to mark the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. They also plan to create an iPad band and a Mariachi band.
Grammies aside, District 204 educators said the three high schools strive for excellence, not bragging rights.
"We make a habit of not having any competition between the three schools," Duker said. "We want all three schools' music programs to be as strong as possible and I think that's very much the case."