GRC symphonic band earns state distinguished rating

The George Rogers Clark High School Symphonic Band received three straight distinguished ratings from the judges at the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) State Concert Band Festival on Tuesday.

Michael Payne, band director at GRC, said GRC hasn’t gone to the state band assessment since at least 2001, which is as far as KMEA records go back.

“It’s the first time we’ve qualified in several years,” he said.

Payne said the ratings were a testament to the emphasis he has placed on all aspects of the band program including marching band, pep band, jazz ensemble, concert band and symphonic band.

“It shows it matters, and you care about the whole well-rounded student musician,” he said.

There were about 25 bands at the state festival this year, which the University of Louisville hosted.

The band – which has about 40 students – played advanced classical music fit for high school musicians. Payne said the group performed three pieces from a list: “Nabucco (Overture)” by Giuseppe Verdi, “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre and “Manhattan Beach” by John Philip Sousa.

“It was tough,” Payne said.

Bands qualify to go to the state assessment by receiving all distinguished ratings or three distinguished ratings and one proficient rating from judges at the district band assessment.

Payne said the band received all distinguished ratings at the district level in March. Distinguished scores represent a superior performance, and all basic elements were performed on “an exceptional artistic level with an accomplished performance and technical presentation,” according to KMEA’s assessment rules.

However, only high school bands can attend the state assessment.

Payne said the state festival is a way to set standards for high school bands. High school bands other than marching bands don’t often compete, so it’s hard to tell whether a group is particularly good or not, Payne said. That’s where these ratings come in.

“You’re telling the community, the administrators and the parents we have a good high-quality band program,” Payne said.

In turn, the band’s success attracts new students, potential donors and overall, support. Receiving high ratings also tips a hat off to the teachers and students who have put several hours, weeks and months into perfecting performances.

The three state judges score performances in seven categories: tone quality, technique, rhythmic integrity, musicality, phrasing, dynamics and other factors such as professionalism and choice of literature.

Payne said the band had reached such heights because of consistency.

“There’s a direct relationship between how long a band director has stayed at a school and the long-term success of a band program,” he said. “It takes consistency.”

He said students have also placed a higher standard on themselves.

“Students have bought into the value of the entire program,” Payne said. “Everything we do has to be at a high level.”

Payne said this year the band stood out because of depth.

“Everybody wanted to be there and had a high standard set for themselves,” he said. “They’ve been cooperative all year with me and each other.”

Moving forward, Payne said he hopes to keep the standards high, and hopes to develop individual students into seasoned musicians, and even better people.

“Just really getting these kids to believe in themselves and show them they can be awesome,” he said.