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Months of practice culminate as five districts combine for All-County Music Festival

Monday, February 10, 2014 - Updated: 11:32 AM


C-S-E Editor

AMSTERDAM -- On Saturday afternoon, months of preparation for music teachers and the top music students in five Montgomery County school districts -- Amsterdam, Canajoharie, Fonda-Fultonville, Fort Plain and OESJ -- culminated at the annual Montgomery County All-County Music Festival held at the Amsterdam High School.

At the beginning of the school year, each district picked their best band and chorus students to perform at the annual festival. Guest conductors were chosen to lead each group the day of the concert, selecting which pieces the students would perform and submitting them to each group's teacher in December.

Students have been practicing the complicated pieces -- ranging from classical band arrangements to seven-part choral epics --ever since, finally meeting one another last week, uniting in two-hour practice sessions at Amsterdam High School.

Canajoharie Elementary School Music Teacher Susan Crua said that in her district, where she's been involved with preparing students for the Montgomery County All-County Music Festival for 15 years (and numerous years prior in other districts), kids audition for spots.

The rehearsals, which take place from December through January, are the most enjoyable part of the process, said Crua, commenting, "the concerts are great, but the whole process for the kids -- rehearsing with a new conductor, meeting kids from all over the county, singing some new, challenging music -- It's a great experience."

Ronald Hurne, guest conductor of the Montgomery Senior High All-County Chorus, explained that though, "the teachers do most of the work," leading up to the culminating event, a lot of thought goes into presenting the students with unique  selections meant to highlight and elevate their abilities.

"I try to pick something that's challenging to the students. I try to vary styles, and within those variations, I look for pieces with educational components," said Hurne, explaining that his choices utilized legato and staccato singing, and contained homophonic and polyphonic sections.

"The idea is they come and sing something they normally wouldn't be singing in their high school program," said Hurne. 

One piece performed by the Montgomery Senior High All-County Chorus Saturday was incredibly complicated, splitting into seven vocal parts as it reached a crescendo. While each vocal group within the chorus would usually sing one specific part, the song split the sopranos, altos and tenors each into two sections.

OESJ High School Music Teacher Marge Curtis, who said that in her district, a committee of choral and band teachers provide recommendations for the All-County groups, was responsible for teaching music to 16 high school students, of the 22 district kids performing Saturday.

The most satisfying part of the experience, which involves scheduling extra practice sessions on top of regular ones, said Curtis --who has been participating in All-County concerts for 31 years -- is the camaraderie between students. She stated, "I enjoy seeing how the kids meld together. They're from five different school districts, and some make lifelong friendships from this."

On Tuesday (for high school students) and Thursday (for middle school students), the five districts were briefly brought together to "work out the bugs" in the selections, familiarizing themselves with their peers and future venue.

On Saturday, each district arrived at the Amsterdam High School around 8:30 a.m., spending the entire day practicing their three or four song set, with sparse breaks, finally able to bring the selections they'd been performing for months to full, vibrant life.

Canajoharie High School Band Teacher Tim Field said that teachers from the five districts start meeting in Sept. each year to begin planning the Montgomery County All-County Music Festival, the proceeds from which provide scholarships and pay the guest conductors. 

Roles are assigned to each teacher, and they remain incredibly busy fulfilling those roles, aside from educating the students, until the concert in February.

Field's favorite part of the long -- but fulfilling -- process, he said, is "seeing the looks on the kids faces after they do the performance -- having them say 'this is so much better than regular band,'" as performing alongside exemplary peers makes them strive to elevate themselves.

"They really enjoy it, and that's the reason to do this -- because it makes them want to do better."

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