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Playing under pressure

March 22, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The cries of a lone violin commanded the attention of an auditorium of music lovers, and the frenzy of a conductor's hands gave way to an explosion of sound.

Notes on a page became music to the ear. To the performers in bow ties, cummerbunds and tennis shoes, the sound was no less melodic than the whoops and hollers that greeted them as they departed the stage at South Hagerstown High School.

"It's one thing to be playing in class, but it's another to be playing in front of people you don't even know, and you've got these judges who are awesome, and we're just high school," sophomore Jeremy Harbaugh said after the Smithsburg High School orchestra performed Monday, the first day of a three-day adjudicated music festival.

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Students from the around the county will hit a high note this week as Washington County Public Schools conducts its first daytime music festival. County school bands take the stage today at South High, while choirs and soloists grab the spotlight Wednesday.

Rob Hovermale, county coordinator of visual and performing arts, said the event is a "learning process" that gives students and teachers the opportunity to hear feedback about their performances from judges.

In previous years, the festival was on a Saturday.

Performances are rated on a scale from poor to superior, Hovermale said.

"It's really not about ratings at all," said Hovermale, rushing between the South High auditorium and practice rooms as he tried to manage the traffic of visitors from around the county. "It's all about improving."

Groups are evaluated by music professionals on their performances of arrangements they have practiced throughout the year. They also are graded on their ability to sight-read new music, Hovermale said.

"This day of these two days, these ensembles are the best they will ever be because they are being judged," Stella Mandley, the mother of two South Hagerstown High School musicians, said during the orchestra festival.

Evan Price, who directs the Smithsburg Middle School and Smithsburg High School orchestras, said playing in front of judges and an audience - all participating groups are required to watch at least two performances - helps give his groups insight into how to improve.

"Anytime you go out in front of people, there's a lot of things that we can say, 'Boy, that didn't go so well,' but there's also lots of things where we can say, 'That was beautiful,'" Price said as the Smithsburg performers prepared to return home after playing pieces by Beethoven, Handel and Verdi.

Stella's daughter, Kerry Mandley, plans to attend Shenandoah University next year to study music education. She loves playing - and listening.

"I really liked what I heard from other groups, from the middle school, especially," Mandley, an oboe player, said. "Coming up from the middle school, there's a lot of talent."

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