North Gwinnett Middle honors orchestra members Stephen Pipes, left, an eighth-grader, sixth-grader Doowon Kim and eighth-grader Noah Moon practice for their upcoming trip to Chicago where they will participate in the 67th annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
SUGAR HILL — The extensive and time-consuming application to apply to be selected for the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic is intense.
That sentiment came from the three co-directors of the North Gwinnett Middle School orchestra. So when they learned they would be one of just three middle schools from around the world to perform this week in Chicago, the reaction was disbelief.
“I think I read the e-mail three times before I told Bo and Amy, just to make sure I was reading it correctly,” said co-director Sarah Black, referring to colleagues Bo Na and Amy Clement. “We were excited, overwhelmed. This was the first time we applied and typically the first time you’re not accepted.”
On Wednesday, 64 members of the North Gwinnett Middle Honor Orchestra will perform the world premiere of the “Tango of the Bulldogs” for an audience of music educators around the world. The 67th annual event is one of the most prestigious in music education, and typically draws 15,000 people from every state and 40 countries. They will be joined on the trip by 15 chaperones, Principal Wanda Law and Assistant Principal David Strickland.
While it’s not a competition, the event has been billed as the Olympics for music education. The directors said they’re looking forward to showcasing their school, Gwinnett County and Georgia, which has a quality reputation for music education, Black said.
The directors believe North Gwinnett Middle is the fifth middle school from Georgia to ever attend the event, and the first from Gwinnett since Creekland Middle in 1996.
Preparation for the event began in April, and then continued with auditions in May, and throughout the process, the orchestra members and directors have rehearsed two and three times per week.
While the directors realize the musical significance, Black said the students are most looking forward to being on a plane together, staying at a nice hotel, visiting the Chicago Aquarium, the Chicago Symphony, touring the city, enjoying Chicago-style pizza, other tourist attractions and wearing hooded sweatshirts made for the trip.
“It’s very hard to get middle schoolers to understand the big deal before they experience it,” Black said. “Even now they may not appreciate the full impact of it until they’re adults and look back. It’s always going to be something very memorable. This is kind of the pinnacle as an orchestra or band teacher.”
At North Gwinnett Middle, music is part of the school’s culture since about 75 percent of its students participate in some form of the arts: band, orchestra, chorus or guitar.
While only some of the school’s students will make the trip, Black said being a part of the event has raised the level of teaching and level of play for everyone involved in arts at the school.
“You always want to do as good a job as you can, but this is where perfectionism is expected,” Black said. “To really polish and perfect things. That’s something that takes a lot of time and repetition. Kids these days are very instant gratification, but that doesn’t happen with an instrument with something like this.”