Photo by Tara Massouleh.
all state orchestra
Homewood High Patriot Band members, from left, Erica Bradley (14), Mary Chalmers (17) and Sam Cross (18) with band director Ron Pence. The students will attend the Alabama All-State Orchestra weekend at the University of Alabama from Feb. 11-14.
In November, Homewood High freshman Erica Bradley was eating lunch with her family at Cocina Superior in Brookwood Village when she received a text. After reading its message Bradley jumped from her seat, squealing with excitement.
“Everyone was staring daggers at us thinking we were crazy people, which we’re not, we were just overly excited,” she said.
Bradley, along with HHS seniors Mary Chalmers and Sam Cross, had been selected for the Alabama All-State Orchestra. Sophomore Ann Popple was selected as an alternate. All four students are members of the Homewood High Patriot Band.
The Alabama All-State Orchestra is an audition-only orchestra comprised of Alabama’s best musicians ages 10-18. The orchestra is split into three levels: Consort, Sinfonia and Festival, with Festival being the highest honor.
Bradley was selected as a violin I in both Consort and Sinfonia, while Chalmers and Cross were selected for Festival – Chalmers earning the sole piccolo spot and Cross as one of four string bassists. Both Chalmers and Cross participated in the Sinfonia Orchestra at last year’s Alabama All-State Orchestra weekend and decided to audition again after having positive experiences.
“I had never done the orchestra thing before until last year, and I just wanted a different kind of challenge,” Chalmers said. “I was surprised at how much I liked it, so that’s why I came back.”
Back in October, after week of practicing, all four students recorded pre-determined audition pieces to be judged through an impartial, blind judging system. In November, the selected students were notified of their acceptance, and in December they received sheet music for the orchestra. On Feb. 11 the students will come together at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for the Alabama All-State Orchestra Festival.
The festival, which culminates on Valentine’s Day, is a four-day intensive program where students first audition for their section chair, then attend two all-day rehearsals before Sunday afternoon performances for friends, family and music enthusiasts.
Cross, who plays the upright bass – an instrument not generally highlighted in marching band – said he is excited to be playing music written more specifically for strings and to be in the company of more string bassists.
“A lot of people don’t play string bass here [in the band], so it’s cool to be with other kids who not only play string bass, but are really into it and want to be good as well,” he said. “Last year there was a kid with a string bass tattoo.”
Homewood band director Ron Pence has been directing high school bands for 30 years, the past 20 of which have been at Homewood. After working with so many talented students through the years he said he can confidently say that the students’ acceptance into the orchestra is no small feat.
“The students that made the orchestra go that extra mile to be great musicians, and it takes a lot of effort before the audition to work hours and hours to be good enough to make Alabama All-State Orchestra,” he said.
For Pence, the students’ acceptance into the orchestra is a source of pride for not only him and the students, but for the entire band.
“It benefits the band so much because the better the musicians in the band, the better the band is,” he said.