Eastern High School Music Students Earn All-State Honors

musicThey are trumpet, saxophone, snare drum, guitar, viola and vocal musicians. They spend countless hours rehearsing, and they perform in competitions and at festivals throughout the year. They are the talented music students of Eastern High School.

The students’ dedication to music was recognized this year when several were selected to perform in the all-state symphonic band, jazz band, symphony orchestra, guitar orchestra, and choirs at the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) Professional Development Conference in February. Some students had performed in the all-state ensembles in previous years, and others joined for the first time.

The students who successfully passed the audition process to become members of the all-state symphonic band include junior trumpeter Easton Barham and junior tenor saxophonist Toby Henson. The three seniors selected for this top ensemble were Chris Engelhardt on trumpet, Vidhu Naik on alto saxophone, and Aidan Ritchie on snare drum. Senior Joshua James was selected to play trumpet with the all-state jazz band.

This marks the second year for Barham as an all-state band member. In 2019 he performed with the concert band, and this year he was selected to play with the symphonic band. Barham began playing trumpet seven years ago, and his love of performing has grown with each passing year. He says his involvement with the all-state group this year was an enjoyable experience.

“I loved every second of it,” Barham says. “Being able to play in the midst of such talented people was incredible. While the musical aspect of all-state was a big part of what made that weekend so special, I also enjoyed the social aspect. Getting to meet new people who are also talented in their instruments, and getting to spend time exploring downtown [Louisville] and just hanging out with other people in Eastern’s band, was a memorable experience.”

Engelhardt, who moved to Kentucky five years ago, began playing trumpet nine years ago with his elementary school band in Hollister, California. This year marks his first time as a member of the all-state symphonic band and he says the experience was incredible.

“The coolest part of all-state is you’re there with everyone from the music world in Kentucky, and everyone there is really, really good,” he says. “It’s great being with everyone from all the different high schools and getting to play with literally the best in the state. Everyone is doing their part and everyone sounds really good. It’s an enjoyable band to be a part of.”

musicThe symphonic band students performed four selections – “Freelance March” by John Philip Sousa, “Poseidon” by Julie Giroux, “Elegy” by John Barnes Chance, and “Until the Scars” by John Mackey. The conductor for the program was Richard Clary, who serves as professor of music, senior band conductor and director of wind ensemble studies at Florida State University.

Thirteen Eastern choir students were selected to perform this year, and three choral performances took place showcasing different groups: TTBB (tenor/tenor/bass/bass); SATB (soprano/alto/tenor/bass) and SSAA (soprano/soprano/alto/alto). Selected pieces included “Soon-Ah Will Be Done” by William Dawson, “Abendlied” by Josef Rheinberger, and “Lumen” by Abbie Betinis. The conductors for the evening were Stephen Caldwell, Julie Yu-Oppenheim and Hillary Ridgley.

This was the first year for senior Taylor Drane to participate in all-state as a member of the SSAA choir, and she says her experience was amazing.

“We stayed downtown in a hotel and we learned our songs at the convention center,” she says. “I got to meet a ton of people from all around Kentucky. I think all-state is more than just good singers coming together. It’s also a chance to meet new people and have fun while learning the songs.”

Senior Adam Bellis was also a member of the 2020 all-state choir, completing his fourth and final year singing with the men’s chorus.

“Being in all-state really gave me my first taste of being in a high-performance choir,” he says. “In my junior year I experienced the greatest moment of my entire choral career. We sang pieces that were really moving and made me rethink reality. The director changed my life while pushing and molding us into being a spectacular choir. My most recent all-state experience encapsulated what I have been doing for the past four years. These experiences have given me the tools to be successful, not only in choir but also in my everyday life.”

Two sophomore students, Jack West and Liyuan Mark Yang, were chosen to participate in the all-state guitar orchestra. This is only the second year for this ensemble. According to West and Yang’s guitar instructor Danielle Smith-Tweddell, the students were selected after a challenging audition process.

“Jack and Mark are in their second year of playing guitar, and classical music is extremely difficult, so for them to make their guitar orchestra as sophomores is a great accomplishment,” she says

Fifty-two students from eleven different schools across the state were chosen to participate in the guitar orchestra.

Smith-Tweddell says she is extremely proud of West and Yang for their hard work.

“They are certainly very talented, but they are also very dedicated to their craft,” she explains. “I differentiate instruction so that they can continue learning classical music on a high level. I also have a former student, who is now a guitar major at the University of Louisville, who volunteers and works with them on Fridays.” 

musicOnly one student was selected this year from Eastern to perform in the KMEA all-state orchestra – senior viola player Megan Baker. Baker has been an all-state member throughout her entire high school career. 

“It is a very rare accomplishment to be selected all four years,” says Frederick Speck, director of Eastern orchestras. “Students prepare excerpts from professional-level literature, and compete in an audition against up to 150 of their peers on instruments for a limited number of chairs in the ensemble. Students play a live audition for two judges at a central location in the fall. If they are one of the few selected, they are sent music to prepare on their own.”

The students have only three days to rehearse before the concert.

“We are very proud of Megan,” Speck says. “She has done an exceptional job during her four years at Eastern.”

Speck adds that two other Eastern students have been members of the all-state orchestra during the past two years – violinist Silas Damron in 2018, and violinist Harrison Evans in 2018 and 2019. 

Congratulations to all students throughout the state who were selected to perform in the all-state ensembles. For more information on the Kentucky Music Educators Association, go to kmea.org.

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