Hard work pays off for the McHenry High School band program as they make their way to the National Concert Band Festival

This will be band’s first appearance at the band festival in March.

On this early morning symphonic band practice on Nov. 15 at McHenry East High School, the strains of “Armenian Dances” fills the band room. Band director Spencer Hile stops.

“We’re painting a musical picture but all I hear is brown. Which is the tuba color,” Hile said with a laugh.“There’s room for everybody." And “Armenian Dances” begins again. 

It is a typical morning practice in a not-so-typical school year. Hile said he’s trying not to let the nervous excitement of preparing for the band’s first ever appearance in the National Concert Band Festival divert attention from the fun of making great music.

“I know that eyes will be on us,” he said of the upcoming festival, which is March 12-14 in Indianapolis. “For me, it’s push, push, push but try to make it fun.”

For student musicians, not much has changed since finding out the band made it to the national festival last summer, except for the fact that the group is practicing more a little more often, adding occasional evening practices to the schedule. It’s worth the effort, Hile and students agree.

“This is where the hard work gets us,” said Payton Anthony, a senior who plays French horn.

Band students said they are hoping others are noticing the big changes in the band program, which also includes concert band, marching band, pep band and jazz ensemble.

In addition to the national festival, the symphonic band also made its first appearance at the All-State Concert with a Feb. 1 performance at the Illinois Music Education Conference in downstate Peoria.

While the hard work hasn’t changed, the excitement is growing.

“I feel like there’s a lot more sense of urgency to what we’re doing now,” said Lissette Hernandez, a sophomore and alto saxophone musician.

McHenry High School band students credit Hile for the many improvements in the program. Other recent accomplishments include playing at the Illinois SuperState Concert Band Festival last year and placing first for the first time in school history at the Chicagoland Marching Band Festival.

Students say Hile works hard to reach out to band students in the middle schools to encourage high school band participation. Hile started an honor band this year, which is open to middle school musicians to play with high school musicians.

“By being around people who are good at what they do, it inspires you to do better,” said Dan Besana, a senior who plays bassoon.

The band program still is in the midst of fundraising for the national trip in March. For details, visit mchenrybands.com.

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