Reading each note and keeping their rhythms in sync, Gutierrez Middle School students Nathan Bauer and Albert SantaMaria are preparing to compete for the school’s 10th sweepstakes award in the past nine years at the University Interscholastic League (UIL) Concert and Sight Reading Competition later this year.
Hosted in April, the competition brings together middle school bands from across the Rio Grande Valley to show off their musical skills. To earn the sweepstakes award, ensembles must earn a one, the highest score possible, in the areas of concert performance and sight-reading. Earning the title of sweepstakes involves perfecting not only the pieces they’ve had the chance to work on, but also a song that they’ve just been given that day.
“We prepare three pieces to be judged for the concert performance,” said William Bennett, director of bands and jazz studies at Gutierrez. “Then, for the sight-reading portion, we go into a room, practice a song they’ve never played before for seven minutes and then perform for the judges. It’s designed to demonstrate their overall ability to read and perform music.”
Bauer and SantaMaria said that their classmates are up for the challenge to keep their campus tradition for musical excellence alive. With their first experience in competition taking place last year, they said they are ready to use that knowledge to their advantage this year. They can now help students competing for the first time succeed.
“We practice as much as we can in class and outside of school,” Bauer said. “We go over what positions we are doing, and what note we need to hit. We always give each other feedback. The eighth grade students helped us last year, and now that we are in eighth grade, it’s nice to pay it back.”
Bennett said an important component to their success would rely on the skills they’ve been working to develop all year.
“They have known their basic fundamentals, and are able to read the notes and rhythms,” Bennett said. “Rhythms are usually the hardest things for students to understand, so we really focus on that throughout the year.”
SantaMaria and Bennett are optimistic that the ensemble will go on to do well in April. For Bennett, that sign stems from walking through the halls to hear his students practice their music during the school’s FLEX period, a time of the learning day that allows students to select the material they’d like to focus on.
“We have to remember that what we are dong is fun,” Bauer said. “We are getting to compete and able to be around friends. It’s a time we are going to remember.”
The bands will compete at the UIL Concert and Sight Reading Contest on April 10 and April 11 in Donna, TX.