For beginners, it was a chance to play before well-trained ears and get graded.
Many others hoped it was a steppingstone to the state festival at Towson University on May 18.
Months ago, each musician picked a piece from a Maryland Band Directors Association songbook. The easiest pieces were Level 1 and the toughest were Level 6, which is what a college or professional musician would play, said Rob Hovermale, the school district's music resource specialist.
The grading system was 1, the highest, to 5, the lowest. Musicians who received a 1 qualified for the state ensemble.
The categories were flute, clarinet, oboe and saxophone, brass, percussion and strings.
Susan Mott, who plays for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, adjudicated the flutists.
In search of a judge, Hovermale called the Allegany County, Md., school system and heard about Mott, who lives in Clear Spring.
Mott said she gave a 1 to nine of the 22 performers Saturday, more than she usually gives at other counties' ensembles.
In some counties, the ensemble is also a tryout for the all-county band, so students pick Grade 6 music, which usually is too difficult, Mott said.
That did not happen Saturday. Most middle-schoolers played Grade 2 or 3 pieces, and the high-schoolers picked 4's and 5's.
"Kids in this county are playing music they're capable of playing," Mott said.
Ashleah Younker, a South High junior, and Amanda Rummel, an E. Russell Hicks freshman - friends and clarinetists - didn't realize they had chosen the same piece until a few weeks ago.
"Just a coinkydink," Ashleah said.
Clarinet judge Susie Kunkle gave each girl a 1.
Ashleah's mother, Tina Younker, said Ashleah, who had played at the ensemble before, was less nervous than her brother, Seth, an E. Russell Hicks seventh-grader taking part for the first time.
Seth scored a 2 with a saxophone piece.
Tina Younker, president of the E. Russell Hicks band booster club, helped organize a team of about 10 adult volunteers and almost 20 student "runners," who notified musicians when judges were ready to hear them play.
Late in the day, Rick and Barb Skeweris and Dan and Lorna Bock sat together in the rehearsal room with their ninth-grade daughters. Chelsea Bock had already received a 1 for her rendition of "Gypsy Moods," a Level 3 piece, on the clarinet. It was her third straight year with a 1.
Then, it was time for Chelsea's friend, Caitlyn Skeweris, to play Theodorus Verhey's "Nocturne."
A half-hour later, Caitlyn was disappointed to learn she received a 2.
Still, the girls will see Towson together. They scored a 1 for an ensemble performance.
Suddenly, Amy Sandeen appeared, bounding down the hall, stopping for hugs along the way. She got the 1 she thought would elude her.
"I was worried because I made mistakes I never made before," she said, noticeably relieved.
"I'm so excited."