Hitting the Right Note

Dedicated NA musicians spent three days practicing and performing at the PMEA festival.

photo by Julia Poppa

Rachel Morrell, Staff Writer

North Allegheny’s music program is nationally recognized for its outstanding performances and talented musicians. On February 1st, 26 NA band and orchestra musicians represented the program at the Pennsylvania Music Educator Association Senior High District 1 Orchestra Festival. 

Jenny Zhu, a junior, valued the experience of attending the festival.

“The prospect of gathering some of the best string players from each school and setting aside our differences to put together hard repertoire is extremely unique,” Zhu said. “Districts also opens my eyes to the privilege I have of being part of such an amazing orchestra program here at NA.”

PMEA, the organization’s nickname, holds separate festivals in each of the 12 districts, which combine a number of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Allegheny County falls under District 1, along with Washington, Greene, Fayette, and Westmoreland County.  

This year, 39 school districts had students in attendance, with over 500 school and private music teachers involved. In all, 171 student musicians were crammed onto the stage. Although the set up was not ideal, arrangements were made to fit the large band and percussion instruments on stage. 

PMEA opens my eyes to the privilege I have of being part of such an amazing orchestra program here at NA.”

— Jenny Zhu, NASH junior

In order to qualify for the festival, students had to fill out an application stating their instrument, how long they have studied music, and various activities they have participated in. Audition scores from this year’s PMEA Honors Orchestra were also included, if applicable.

The rigorous festival lasted for three days, with seating auditions starting on Thursday afternoon, a nine-hour rehearsal on Friday, and the final concert on Saturday. Despite the exhausting schedule, students were able to enjoy themselves. 

Andrew Yang, a senior, participated in the festival for the third time this year.

“I enjoy PMEAs because not only do I get the chance to create music with other student musicians all around the area, but also because of the bonds formed through the rehearsals of challenging pieces,” Yang said.

The talented trombonist and Three Rivers Young Peoples Orchestra director Brian Worsdale was the conductor for the event. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Worsdale attended the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College Division and continues to build orchestral programs all over New York City. He recently moved into Wexford but returns to New York each summer to direct the French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts, one of the largest and most comprehensive summer performing arts programs in the United States.  

Opening up the concert, the orchestra played “The Flight to Neverland,” pulled straight from the score of the movie Hook. After playing the composition, sophomore Kaitlin Chou was especially pleased.

“I like playing music from movies,” Chou said. “It’s cool to associate the music with the scenes.”

Bold melodies from the brass sections perfectly blended with the legato motifs from the violin and wind sections to showcase John Williams’ signature work.  

This year’s concert repertoire was especially unique. Local composer Todd Goodman composed an orchestral piece titled “Chronicle” to premiere at the festival. Not many people can say they have been the first to play a piece of music, making the concert special to the performers and the audience.

“Mr. Goodman was at the rehearsals and could offer suggestions for the piece’s performance,” NASH Orchestra Director Sarah Lavelle said. “It’s unique to be able to have a conversation with the composer about his intentions and visions for a piece of music right before you perform it”. 

Along with “Chronicle,” the concert also featured an only-string piece by Brian Balmages, a popular modern composer. “Lullaby To The Moon” showcased the peaceful, yet striking range of stringed instruments. The music served as a refresher from the previous fast-paced songs. “The song was such a beautiful piece that exposed the capabilities of the string section,” Senior Patrick Upton commented. “It wasn’t technically hard but being able to put the piece together as an orchestra without any technical conducting was a new experience”.  

For their final piece, the orchestra played the challenging “Capriccio Espagnolby Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The piece featured numerous violin, flute, clarinet, horn, and harp soli. Consisting of five movements, the orchestral suite features around 16 minutes of continuous playing. The last movement, perhaps the most memorable for the audience and performers, is the most challenging part of the piece, as its tempo and dynamics increase dramatically until the end.   Korsakov, a Russian composer, wrote “Capricciofor professional adult orchestras, but many youth and student organizations have stepped up to the task.

The hours of hard practice and dedication paid off when the audience gave the musicians a standing ovation, congratulating the hard work put in by all the band and orchestra students involved.  Next up is the regional PMEA festival, after which is the grand prize — All-State Orchestra.