CF music programs sweep large group contest after all earn Division I ratings last Saturday

Ensembles from across northeast Iowa came to Cedar Falls High School on Saturday, May 6 for the annual Iowa High School Music Association (IHSMA) State Large Group Contest. Bands played in the gym, choirs sang in the auditorium and orchestras performed in the Holmes Junior High gym. Cedar Falls was one of 29 sites of this contest around the state of Iowa.

Wind symphony director Gerald Ramsey said he enjoyed hosting the contest. “I enjoy seeing performances of so many different school ensembles, performances that are the culmination of the current school year’s work,” he said.

For the ensembles from Cedar Falls, it was a very special day of performances. All eight ensembles — four choirs, two bands, a symphony orchestra and a string orchestra — received a Superior Division I rating from every judge. “For Cedar Falls’ music department as a whole, we should celebrate the fact that we are one of the very few schools in the entire state with the entire program all receiving unanimous Superior Division I ratings from all three independent judges,” symphonic band director Kyle Engelhardt said. “It is evident we have students willing to work hard, and it is also evident we have parents and administrators that support music in our public schools.”

There was a lot of hard work by these ensembles leading up to the contest. Regarding wind symphony, senior trombonist Jack Dunning said, “Mr. Ramsey always focuses lots of time on the details. Each rehearsal, he incorporates various articulations and rhythmic figures into a warmup for the band, encouraging the band to think and play with precision as we create music.”

Junior vocalist Clare Rolinger said preparing the literature for this contest was challenging. “We really hammered down in the last few weeks before contest,” she said. “Because we had chosen such difficult pieces, it was pretty stressful in the final days before we performed. A lot of the last few choir rehearsals were very focused because we had to master all three of the pieces, and we were still struggling with memorization and diction.”

Orchestra director Ann Osborne also focused on rehearsal tactics at the contest neared. “The last week or so, we practiced with the very annoying and loud metronome, amplified so that everyone could hear the beat, to help with the rushing that was a big issue on one of our pieces,” she said. “Even though it was a bit excruciating, it really did help us improve, and one of the judges even commented on how impressed he was at our steady beat on that piece.”

The hard work by both ensembles definitely paid off. “While sitting in the gym, counting my rests, I was in awe of how well the band was playing,” Dunning said. “Immediately following the performance, all three judges gave the wind symphony a standing ovation, which gave me a sense of pride.”

Senior bassist Maxwell Dupree said he was pleased with the orchestra’s performances. “I felt good about our performances while we were playing since I didn’t notice any big mistakes from the orchestra, but after a performance it is hard to know how to feel, but looking up and seeing the judges smiling at the orchestra is always a good sign.”

“We chose difficult pieces of literature for contest, so it was an amazing feeling to actually pull it off and earn a Division I,” Rolinger said. “There was something really empowering about tackling songs that difficult.”

“I am very proud of the symphonic band for their outstanding performance,” Engelhardt said. “They tackled two difficult and contrasting selections, and played with a lot of musicality and professionalism. They should feel great for being part of a tradition of excellence in the music program.”

“I have participated in large group for many years, with several different schools. I know how hard it is to get a Division I rating,” Osborne said, “so the fact that both of the Cedar Falls orchestras managed to earn a Division I means so much to me. We have talented, committed and hard-working students here, and our rating really shows that.”

“I was so very proud of the wind symphony’s performance,” Ramsey said. “One of our judges wrote only one word in the comments section of his ballot: ‘Awesome!’ Another judge wrote, ‘There’s not a thing I can write to make any difference. I feel like I just spent time w[ith] an old friend. I love this piece. Thanks so much for playing it [and] for making my entire day!’ We work hard preparing the music because we want to have thrilling performances. When we are successful in that endeavor and then, in addition, our work is rewarded with such fine accolades from the judges, it’s icing on the cake.”

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