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April 24 2012

Schenectady High School Band Members Return
from National Competition with Top Awards & Memories to Last a Lifetime

Three Schenectady High School bands traveled to Williamsburg, VA, April 19-22 to compete in the National Music Festival.  All three bands came home with awards including two first place awards and overall festival grand champion award.  Two Schenectady musicians were named “outstanding.” 

Schenectady students, staff and parents are ‘buzzing’ about the experience, the accomplishments of the students and the dedication of the band director.   

“Our trip was an incredible experience on all levels,” said Joel Servant, director of Schenectady High School’s Concert Band, Jazz Ensemble and Marching Band.  “Students, parents and teachers are overwhelmed with a sense of pride for the accomplishments of the Schenectady High School bands.  The students have grown throughout the entire experience and have become a tight-knit family of musicians working toward the common goal of excellence.” 

The National Music Festival draws bands from all over the country to compete in the areas of band, choir, and strings.  Performances are rated based on national standards of performance in band. 

Servant said that bands across the United States go to the music festival because it is an opportunity for students to push for and achieve a high degree of musical excellence as an ensemble.  “It is a goal that students strive for and for them to achieve great success there is a lot of hard work and dedication that needs to take place,” said Servant.  “These trips end up being one of the most memorable experiences of a student’s education.” 

The hard work and dedication of Servant and his students has paid off. 

Bringing Home Awards

The Schenectady High School Concert Band, which competed April 20, brought home the first place award, earned a Superior rating, and was named Overall Festival Grand Champion.    

The school’s Jazz Ensemble also competed April 20.  The group won first place and earned a Superior rating. 

The Marching Band competed on April 21 and earned third place with an Excellent rating. 

Also receiving recognition and being named “Outstanding,” were the Concert Band percussion section, the Jazz Band rhythm section and the Marching Band’s drumline.   

Musician Sean Obach was named Outstanding Musician and Chris Dobson was named Outstanding Soloist. 

The groups and the “outstanding” notables were honored and presented with awards at a ceremony in Busch Gardens Williamsburg.  

“I am extremely excited and happy with all of our placements and awards,” said Servant.  “The students performed wonderfully and deserve every bit of recognition that they received.” 

Schenectady High School Senior and Band President Kevin Ravas said since this was their first competition, none of the students knew what to expect or how they would do .  “That moment when our name was called for first was worth a million …. all of us jumped and hollered,” he said.  “It was wild.  I know it meant a lot to Mr. Servant too as he worked the hardest out of all of us there and the whole band knows it.” 

According to Servant it took a lot of hard work and determination from everyone to get to the competition.  The trip held a price tag of about $30,000.  The Schenectady High School band students raised $15,000 by holding fundraisers such as car washes, bottle drives, snack bar sales, sock sales, restaurant nights and received a variety of generous donations.  The families paid the balance.  Servant said each student was responsible for paying about $325.

Prior to making the trip, the students rehearsed during band classes as well as many hours in the evening.  “The bands rehearsed during Spring break as well as the week of the trip in order to achieve a high quality, polished performance,” said Servant.  The drumline was holding evening rehearsals since February. 

Ravas compared the trip to a vacation over the summer on a sailboat in Key West.  “This trip was just as good, if not better,” said Ravas.  He said he most enjoyed spending time with the band members and having the opportunity to bond through rehearsals, long hours of travel on the bus and on the roller coaters at Busch Gardens.  “We got to hang with our friends while also making new friends and getting to know other members of the band along the way.” 

Krista Hawk, Schenectady High School Choir Director who accompanied the musicians to the competition said that most of the instrumental students have played since elementary school and this was an opportunity to raise their skills to another level.  “It reinforces a sense of purpose and dedication to a program they love,” said Hawk who will be putting her show on the road soon.  Hawk directs the Schenectady High School Women’s Choir which will be doing a performance tour of Puerto Rico from June 24-30.   

“These experiences are important to participate in on a regular basis because it motivates, not only students, but the community,” said Servant.  “It gives the community a sense of pride in their school’s music programs and leads to an even stronger desire to support what we have going here in Schenectady.”

“We’re back from the trip now and you can just feel that everyone is closer,” said Ravas.  “We’re like a team.  And we actually experienced some victory at the competition too.” 

Schenectady parents have been touting the Schenectady High School bands and their director since the weekend through email and on Facebook. 

Theresa Fitzmaurice, parent of Schenectady High School senior and musician Kaleb, raved about Servant stating that he worked tirelessly to organize and prepare the students and their families for the trip.  

“There are so many aspects of this endeavor which merit admiration and gratitude, but several stand out,” said Fitzmaurice.  She pointed to the daily communication, the opportunity for her child to raise money on his own for the trip, the expectations and follow through of “setting a bar” for appropriate and responsible behavior and one to achieve.   She also expressed gratitude to other staff members.  “Most of all, I appreciate Mr. Servant believing in our children enough to go to the lengths it takes to put together such an incredible experience, and to do it, not because it is part of his job, but because he believes it is for the good of his students,” said Fitzmaurice.  “My son will remember this his entire life, as we will.”   

Kaleb Fitzmaurice wrote a note of gratitude on his Facebook page.  “I will never forget the great people and awesome times,” he said.  “I especially want to thank Mr. Servant for pushing us to be the best we can be and working so hard in order for us to be able to have opportunities like the one we just experienced.” 

Ravas agrees with his fellow band member and noted that Schenectady’s band director takes the program to a whole new level.  “I’m honored to have been a part of the first group of students he took to competition,” he added.  “I know he’ll never forget it and neither will I.” 

“Mr. Servant’s own musical talent, standards, integrity and dedication have certainly made him a tremendous role model to these kids,” said Hawk.  She said one of her favorite quotes from the trip was, ”okay guys, bring this up to level Servant.”  “We are blessed to have him teaching in our music program here at the John Sayles School of Fine Arts,” said Hawk. 

There is clearly mutual respect and admiration.  “I am very honored and grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing students,” said Servant.

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