The band and orchestra will travel to Anaheim, April 16-18, to compete in California’s Forum Festival judges’ invitational.

This opportunity isn’t given to just any musical group. The Forum Festival starts at a regional level, where jazz bands, concert bands, full orchestras (strings, winds and brasses), string orchestras and choirs compete for ratings of gold, silver and bronze.

Last year, the string orchestra and jazz band earned gold, qualifying them for this year’s statewide competition in Anaheim.

But the jazz band and the string orchestra aren’t the only ones going; the concert band is also tagging along – as part of the jazz band.

“We wanted to bring more students along, so I’m teaching (the concert band) jazz,” band director Bob Ratcliff said. “My jazz band is already smaller than most other bands, so adding in the concert band doesn’t cause any numerical issues.”

Ratcliff is transposing the jazz scores into arrangements better suited for concert band instruments.

“I don’t want the music to sound compensated,” he said. “I want it to sound like we meant for those flutes to be in there; we intended for that bassoon, that violin…”

Junior Anthony Swaminathan usually plays the clarinet in the concert band but will be playing the bassoon in Anaheim. He said that the combination of bands will work for the competition.

“I don’t think everyone is really cut out for jazz, but it’s fine,” Swaminathan said. “The real motivation is so that everyone can go to the festival.”

According to Ratcliff, bringing in unconventional instruments could pose problems with the judging. Because the judges are accustomed to listening for certain sounds, they will not be able to apply their usual grading system to SCDS’s unusual band.

“While some judges may view the unconventional instruments as ‘cool,” Ratcliff said, “other judges may be completely against the way I’m organizing my band.”

Although the music program qualifies for the judges’ invitational every year, the last time they participated was two years ago.

Orchestra teacher Felecia Keys explained: “We like this competition, but we try to limit the cost by going to Anaheim every other year.”

Two years ago, the school won consistent medals across all performing groups, earning them first place in the sweepstakes award out of approximately 40 other schools.

The competition itself isn’t the only thing to look forward to.

After performing on the morning of the second day, the schools will visit Disneyland. There, they will roam the park as the judges determine the performance scores. The awards ceremony will be held later that evening.

“It’s very…Disney,” Keys said, in reference to the awards ceremony. “They go all out – costumes, characters, everything. They put on quite the show.”

Keys said she has high hopes for this year’s musical group. “The competition varies from year to year, but we always go for gold,” she said. “My strings have some work to do, but they’re sounding great.”

Forum Festival isn’t the only competition in which Country Day performs. In past years the orchestra, band, chamber groups and soloists have participated in Golden Empire, a series of festivals sponsored by the California Music Educators Association (CMEA). CMEA sponsors nine such festival series across the state, each within a designated district. Golden Empire is the name of the series held in the Capital District, which includes Sacramento and several surrounding counties.

Similar to Forum Festival participants, Golden Empire participants are given ratings of gold, silver or bronze. Earning gold qualifies the group for the statewide CMEA competition, which includes gold-winning participants from all nine divisions.

However, the dates for this year’s Golden Empire festivals conflict with other school events. One day is during AP exam week, one conflicts with the Anaheim trip and the third is during Spring Break. Many schools jumped for the Spring Break slot.

SCDS initially registered for that date as well, but was then informed that it was full. Several other schools faced the same problem. CMEA, having realized its mistake, has scheduled an “overflow” competition in Wheatland on the first day of Spring Break, March 21. SCDS’s chamberists and soloists are currently signed up to perform there.

Previously published in the print edition on March 17, 2015.

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