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Band, orchestra students offer musical spring fling

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The Worthington Middle School seventh-grade band rehearses under the direction of WMS band director Mike Andersen in preparation for their Tuesday concert.

WORTHINGTON -- Literally hundreds of District 518 student instrumentalists are set to entertain at spring finale concerts this week.

First on deck is the "String Extravaganza," with 173 orchestra students (fourth- through 12-graders) performing at 7 p.m. tonight at the Worthington High School (WHS) gymnasium.

Tuesday night welcomes the "Band Bash," another multi-school effort, with the nearly 300 band members (fifth- through 12th-graders) set to swing at 7 p.m., also at the WHS gymnasium.

Both concerts are free and open to the public.

A high point of tonight's orchestra event will be when all of the string groups combine to play Hummel's "Concertante" at the concert's close.

"This is the fifth year we'll have done the Hummel, and the kids really anticipate it," said Melanie Loy, WHS and Worthington Middle School (WMS) string instructor.

"We have parts for the high schoolers on down to the fourth-graders, so the piece lends itself to different ages and ability levels." Loy said

The 50 members of the fifth- and sixth-grade orchestra will present "Sword Dance" and "Boogie Man Blues," while the 32 seventh- and eighth-grade students will offer a "Phantom of the Opera" arrangement as well as the theme from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and two other more classical selections.

A medley from the musical "Wicked" is on tap from the 25 WHS string players, who will be joined by six percussionists and a pianist for at least one number.

In addition, a string quintet will open the show with "Cabaret," and a top-rated student quartet will demonstrate its achievement on Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik."

"The fifth Beth Habicht Orchestra Award will be given to an outstanding senior, as will the National School Orchestra Award," added Melanie Loy. "Plus, the Director's Award for an outstanding eighth-grade orchestra student will be presented."

Joining Melanie Loy this year, due in part to the 2010-11 fifth-grade move to WMS and also the increase in the overall number of string students, is Katie Stafford, an elementary general music and beginning string instructor at Prairie Elementary.

Stafford will lead her 66 fourth-grade students in a few numbers, and she says they are looking forward to playing on the massed "Concertante" with the "big" kids.

"I'm very excited for them, because they haven't yet heard what it will sound like with the middle- and high schoolers added in," Stafford said. "The progress these kids have made is astounding, considering less than one year ago they were just learning how to hold their instruments and play their first notes, and it's fun to see how far they've come."

Another music teacher who similarly appreciates her students' rapid progress is Jeanette Jenson, a WMS general music and beginning band instructor.

"You can really hear how much the kids have grown musically since beginning their band instruments last summer," Jenson said. "On Tuesday night, the 64-member fifth-grade band will play 'Double-OH-Eight,' a spoof on James Bond and other spy movies, and 'Rattlesnake,' where you can hear the varmint race through the band.

"Those pieces were both featured at the Minnesota Band Directors' beginning band festival, so these students are already playing some challenging literature."

Jenson credits Jon Loy, WHS director of bands, with having the vision to bring together all the District 518 band students for the joint gala concert on Tuesday night.

"It's the second year we've combined the bands from all the schools at this time, and we usually share some lighter music at this concert while also honoring our graduating seniors and having other end-of-the-year acknowledgements," shared Jon Loy.

Loy will lead the WHS concert band in a medley of tunes from "Mary Poppins," and a marching band arrangement of "You Can't Stop the Beat" from the musical "Hairspray" will enliven the evening.

Twelve seniors will be recognized, whom Loy says have had a "lasting and very positive impact" on the WHS band program, and the senior band awards will be presented.

Another fun element to the band program is the "Saxiest Men Alive," a quartet of WHS saxophonists who scored highly at the solo/ensemble contests and will reprise their contest presentation for the larger audience.

The 50 WMS sixth-grade band students, under the direction of Mike Andersen, will groove to "Land of A Thousand Dances" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It."

"The theme for our part of the concert is a sort of Michael Jackson/Motown tribute," revealed Andersen. "The combined seventh/eighth grade band, with about 80 kids, will play 'My Girl' and 'Thriller.'

"For them, this is old music, but they've really liked it, maybe because Michael Jackson's music is still fresh enough that everyone remembers him."

And while the school year is winding down, the band students will experience only a brief break before embarking on summer band instruction (for the WMS students) and marching band preparation (for the WHS band) in June.

"The highlight for the middle schoolers is our trip to march at Valleyfair, which will be on June 24," noted Andersen. "Hopefully we'll be able to do it without having to stop on the way home to avoid a tornado, which happened to us last year."

The District 518 orchestra students perform at 7 p.m. tonight at the Worthington High School gymnasium, and the District 518 band students perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday, also at the WHS gymnasium. Both concerts are free and open to the public.