This past February on a cold, dreary Saturday morning, a group of teens gathered at Crosby Middle School in Douglass Hills to ready themselves for an event that would make a significant impact on their lives.
These teens weren’t practicing drills to prepare for an intense sporting tournament, nor were they studying for a grueling academic examination. The students from Crosby were prepping for their much-anticipated performance at the annual Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) Conference held in downtown Louisville.
Crosby Band Director Joseph Stivers and his young musicians were beyond excited to be chosen to perform at the event. There are several steps involved before a band or choir receives confirmation that they are invited to play at the event.
“We have twelve districts within our KMEA organization,” Stivers explains. “The first step is for the bands to go through a district-level assessment performance during the spring semester. Once you do that you get a rating, which can be Distinguished, Proficient, Apprentice or Novice. Bands, orchestras or choirs receive a letter from Dr. John Stroube, executive director for KMEA. If the letter announces that we received all Distinguished ratings at our annual festival event, then we’re highly encouraged to apply for the state-level conference. It’s a seal of approval.”
The director decides whether he or she wants to take the next steps to apply to participate in the conference. The process includes submission of professional recordings of a band’s music. The deadline to submit all materials was June 1.
The Crosby band submitted two pieces – “Dream Variants”, composed by Roland Barrett, and “The Crosley March” by Henry Fillmore.
“‘Dream Variants’ is a more modern piece, whereas ‘The Crosley March’ is more on a high-school level in terms of technique demands, range and rhythm,” Stivers says.
According to Stroube, submissions are rendered anonymous and grouped according to performance type. Committees of teachers, also grouped by performance type, then evaluate and rank the recordings.
“In other words, orchestra teachers rank orchestras, band teachers rank bands and choral teachers rank choirs,” Stroube says. “The highest-ranking groups, to the point that performance times are exhausted, are invited to perform.”
The Crosby band was notified during the summer that they’d been accepted, yet the students who actually recorded the audition pieces didn’t have the opportunity to perform at the conference in February. They were eighth graders at the time of the recording, and have since gone on to high school.
“I never got to do a face-to-face to tell them we made it, but I did send email, texts and social media posts out to the parents and graduates thanking them for their participation.” Stivers says.
The former students and their parents were invited to listen to the current students play. At the conference the band performed “Exaltation Fanfare” by Curtis J. Melton, “Industria for Winds and Percussion Ensemble” by N. Alan Clark, “Wondrous Love” by Greg Danner, and “Danse Bohemien” by Randall D. Standridge.
Stivers says he’s wanted to bring his band to the state conference ever since he began teaching at Crosby nearly a decade ago.
“When I got the job at Crosby, I sat down with Mike Arthur, the band director at Eastern High School, and I told him that it was my goal to play at state conference with one of my groups by year five,” Stivers says. “Well, the fifth year came and it hadn’t happened. I kept applying and this was the year we got accepted, with me as the director.”
Stivers says the last time a Crosby group hit the state conference stage was in 1977, under the direction of Marsha Anderson.
“It’s kind of interesting as to how I found this out,” he says. “There was a point when our building was going through some modifications, so some things had to be moved out and cleaning had to be done. During this process our secretary found some cool souvenirs, and one was a record album from 1977 of Mrs. Anderson’s band performing at the conference. She also found the program that went with it. It had the names of the songs the band performed, plus it had the name of the principal who was at Crosby then.”
The entire Crosby Middle School community is proud of this accomplishment, especially the school’s principal, Dr. Kara Ammerman.
“It just reaffirms to everyone that we have such a strong music department at our school,” Ammerman says. “Being part of this program is something that helps our students to be not only academically sound but also culturally aware. Having access to a top-notch music department is something I feel helps them navigate what high school they want to go to.”
Ammerman is pleased with the connections Stivers has helped to build during his years at Crosby.
“He has such a strong relationship with students, and there are so many alumni who come back to visit,” she says. “Our motto is, ‘We’re all in, all the time.’ We want to prepare you not only for the next step, high school, but we want to prepare you for life.”