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High school musicians bring their best to IHSA Solo & Ensemble Contest at Carterville

  • Landon Gates gets some last-minute encouragement from Harrisburg High School Band Director Hannah Drake.

    Landon Gates gets some last-minute encouragement from Harrisburg High School Band Director Hannah Drake.
    Photo by Chanda Green

updated: 3/7/2017 1:03 PM

CARTERVILLE - Carterville High School was buzzing with nervous energy Saturday as the Illinois High School Association Solo & Ensemble Contest took over the campus and narrowed the curriculum to music, music, music.

It lingered in hallways and echoed in bathrooms as musicians warmed up for their moment in the spotlight. Bits of beautiful, classical pieces escaped from the auditorium's doorway as students played the grand piano, under a spotlight, on the stage, while the percussionists marched to a different drummer right around the corner. Grand harmonies could be heard on the first floor as soloists and ensembles raised their voices, while woodwinds and brass instruments vied for dominance on the second.

Judges listened and scribbled on paper tally forms, adding up scores and making notes for the performers. And for serious high school musicians, that just might be the most important part of the process, that is, once they've all recovered from the tension and anxiety that pulses through this event like a big, bass drum.

It is a competition, after all.

Herrin High School Band Director J.T. Lewis spent his Saturday, walking the halls, calming his students' nerves, offering some last-minute guidance and instruction, and "giving pep talks."

"They're all doing fine -- all my students -- they're just nervous," he said. "I know they will do the best they can; I have every confidence in them."

Kennedy Pasley, one of Lewis' students, had finished her solos on both oboe and piano.

"I still have a vocal performance today to go," she said. "I love music!"

Avery Rea of Carterville had just finished her solo, wiping away tears as the tension of the moment passed.

"I made a few mistakes," she said, "but I'm hard on myself, too."

Avery had put her flute away for a while, she said, when the stress became too much, but picked it up again after realizing the importance of rising to a challenge.

"I know that I need to push myself through what challenges me," she said. "I just wish I wasn't a nervous crier."

Landon Gates of Harrisburg hammed it up with Hannah Drake, his high school music director, before taking his place at the front of room 232 for his cornet solo.

He said he wasn't nervous, well, maybe a little, but he didn't mind because he enjoyed music so much.

"Music makes me happy," he said, as simple as that.

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