‘It’s the highest honor for a high school musician in Alabama’

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Pictured are Cullman High School students who made All-State or District Band: Branson Danecker, Sara Reeves, Tessa Adkins and Avery Barnett. Students from several Cullman-area bands were selected. See the full list in the story. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Smith)

CULLMAN – The Alabama Bandmasters Association held District III tryouts for All-State and District Honor Bands on Saturday, Jan. 26 at Muscle Shoals High School. Many area band students chose to take part in the difficult audition process in hopes of being selected. The auditions were open to middle school and high school musicians.

Cullman High School Band Director Christopher Smith and Assistant Band Director Doug Teuscher spoke with The Tribune to help explain how the auditions are conducted and how the honor bands differ.

Smith explained, “The Alabama Bandmasters Association (ABA) is split into eight districts, which is relevant to state contests, All-State and District Honor Bands. District III includes Cullman, Walker, Winston, Lauderdale, Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, Marion, Lamar and Fayette Counties. For All-State these are the counties we compete with, unless, like in the case of our middle school baritone sax. They are called unassigned, and because there are fewer bari saxes, they actually combine us with District IV, which is the Birmingham-Shelby County area. So he was actually competing with more counties than our high school kids.”

Teuscher added, “Every district has an All-State audition that’s super hard. Every student that wants to try out, they have to go against everybody from that district. They pick the top players out of each district and they make a band. People that are the best from every part of Alabama, they get picked. The auditions are at the end of January every year and the concert is in April.” 

There are four All-State Bands. Three of the bands are high school musicians placed in either red, white or blue bands. The red band is made up of the highest-scoring student musicians, followed by the white band and then blue. The fourth band is middle school students.

Teuscher pointed out, “It’s harder to do middle school because they take less people.” 

The same audition is used to determine the All-District Honor Band. More musicians are chosen for this band. Those chosen for All-State also make District Honor Band along with the best musicians that weren’t selected for the All-State Bands. According to Teuscher, it is common for those making the All-State Bands to forego their place in the All District Band. This gives students selected as alternates a chance to participate. 

The audition process requires each musician to perform all scales, at least two prepared pieces (three for percussion) and demonstrate their sight-reading abilities. It is a blind audition, so each hopeful student musician performs behind a curtain. The judges are only able to judge by sound and they are not given the names or schools from which the musicians come. 

This year, 581 students signed up for All-State tryouts. Of those students, only 109 were selected to participate at the state level. For District Band, 165 were chosen. The tryout itself is difficult, and making it is even tougher.

Teuscher said, “As my band director used to say, ‘It’s the highest honor for a high school musician in Alabama.’”

Cullman-Area Students selected for All-State Bands and District Bands 

All-State Red Band

  • Gracie Hamby- Meek High School, clarinet
  • Branson Danecker- Cullman High School, French horn 

All-State White Band

  • Tori Payne- Meek High School, flute
  • Tessa Adkins- Cullman High School, clarinet
  • Taylor Gable- Hanceville High School, percussion

All-State Blue Band

  • Madeline Murrah- Meek High School, clarinet
  • Ally Parris- Meek High School, trombone 

All-State Unassigned

  • Sara Reeves-Cullman High School, piccolo
  • Kellen Drinkard- West Point High School, bassoon 
  • Sabrina Gaines- Meek High School, bass clarinet

All-State Middle School

  • Yukino Shichinohe- Cullman Middle School, alto saxophone 
  • Elijah Putman- Cullman Middle School, baritone saxophone 

Alternates

  • Xander Williamsen- Hanceville High School, baritone saxophone 
  • Anastasia Rubley- Meek High School, trumpet

District Honor Band

  • Holli Hyche- Meek High School, clarinet
  • Johnathan Schramm- Hanceville High School, alto saxophone 
  • Makala Cone- Good Hope High School, trumpet
  • Avery Barnett- Cullman High School, trombone 
  • Aaron Farmer- Meek High School, tuba
  • Ryan Griffis- Meek High School, percussion 

District Honor Band Middle School

  • Jacqueline Figueroa- Cold Springs Middle School, clarinet
  • Ory Frith- Meek Middle School, alto sax
  • Conner Goff- Cullman Middle School, percussion

“Sometimes for random instruments, like Sara (Reeves) on piccolo, when you go to the actual All-State, you have to do a short tryout again and they put you in red, white or blue because they don’t know how many they are going to need. So instruments there’s not a lot of, like bassoon, if you make it, you have to find out later where you are going to be. It’s kind of nerve-racking, but red, white, or blue, they are all prestigious,” Teuscher explained. 

As for the All-State performances, Smith said, “Our All-State kids, the kids we had make it and all the other schools, will go up to Huntsville this year. They will compete for chair placements within the band that they made. We had one kid make first chair red band for our district, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be first chair red band when he gets to All-State. He’s got to compete against all the other red band kids and figure out which actual chair he gets. It’s a little convoluted and complicated, but that’s essentially what it is.”

The All-State Band rehearsals and performance will be in Huntsville this year. Details have not been announced yet, but it will take place in April. The students will rehearse for two full days prior to performing for family, friends and other guests. The bands are conducted by well-known composers and directors. For more information on the upcoming performance, visit www.myamea.org/aba/.

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