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BMS student selected for prestigious honor band

Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:56 a.m. CST • Updated: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 12:10 p.m. CST
(Submitted Photo)
Emily Miller, a percussionist and eighth-grad student at Berg Middle School in Newton, was recently selected to take part in the Iowa Bandmasters All-Iowa Eighth Grade Honor Band, which will perform tomorrow in Des Moines. Only one percussionist was selected from the region that includes the Newton Community School District.

Emily Miller, a percussionist and eighth-grade student at Berg Middle School, was recently accepted to perform in the 2013 Iowa Bandmasters All-Iowa Eighth Grade Honor Band in conjunction with the Iowa Bandmasters annual convention.

Emily will travel Thursday to Des Moines to rehearse for a half day, and will then take part in a 1 p.m. concert in the Des Moines Downtown Marriott Hotel.

“This is pretty big news in the band world,” Berg band instructor Seth Banwell said. “This is only my third student to be selected into this honor band in five years.”

The process leading up to tomorrow’s performance began nearly a year ago for Miller, who has played piano and violin for years, is relatively new to percussion.

“In seventh grade, I was in homeroom with Mr. Banwell,” Miller said. “I tried out the mallets and liked it, so he persuaded me to keep going with it.”

“We auditioned in the fall, I think it was Septemeber,” she added. “But we’d gotten our music in May of last year so we had four months work really hard on it. About 40 kids auditioned and the top five got recalled — I found out I was recalled really late at night, which I was super excited about.”

After the top five percussionists performed again for judges, Miller was chosen as the first chair.

“I thought I did really well (in the recall audition), but all of the other kids were really good too, so I was very honored when I was picked as first chair,” Miller said.

The honor band is celebrating its 25th year of offering musical opportunities to outstanding eighth-grade musicians throughout Iowa. The 132-piece band is comprised of students from six Iowa Bandmasters regions across the state.  

Each district has its own specific requirements for selection, including very competitive auditions for participation in the ensemble, and these students are the top members of their sections at district honor band.

Only one percussionist from approximately 65 schools in the south central district is accepted into the honor band.  For the auditioning process, Emily was expected to memorize nine scales and prepare two etudes for both the marimba and tympani.  

Each year, a composer/conductor is selected from the nation’s top publishers for young bands. This year’s conductor is Mr. Larry Neeck, who has more than 100 works for concert band and jazz ensembles published.

Neeck, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s degree from Eastman School of Music, teaches instrumental music in the Webster (N.Y.) Central School District. He directs concert bands, jazz ensembles, and is co-founder and director of the Willink Middle School Student/Parent Band.

This year, the band’s commission is titled “Voyage to the Edge of the World.”