McKINNEY — Chicago in mid-December may not be every Texan’s idea of a great get-away. Snow, frigid temperatures and biting winds combine to offer a pretty harsh experience for most of us accustomed to more temperate southern winters.
But for Director Michael Link, Assistant Director Shelly Duell and the members of the McKinney Boyd High School Honors Chamber Orchestra, Chicago is exactly where they want to be Dec. 17-20, for they are among the few who have been chosen to grace the stage at the world-renowned Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic – and one of only two high school orchestras chosen from Texas.
"Being invited to perform at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic means that your high school orchestra is one of the best high school orchestras in the nation,” said McKinney ISD Fine Arts Director Roy Renzenbrink. “It means that you and your students have attained a level of musicianship that deserves recognition at the most respected national music education conference. This is a huge accomplishment for Mr. Link and his students. McKinney Boyd High School and McKinney ISD are very proud of these fine directors and their great students for representing all of us in such an incredible way.”
Held each December in Chicago since 1946, the Midwest Clinic draws a huge annual audience of musicians, educators, publishers and other industry professionals from all over the world – 17,000 attendees from all 50 states and more than 30 countries, according to their website.
It’s where the music world convenes to share and sharpen their craft and to discover promising new published music for bands and orchestras. And, each year, groups of every type and size from all over the world apply for the honor of performing at the conference.
In the case of the Boyd Honors Chamber Orchestra, a collective of the school’s most advanced ninth-12th grade violin, viola, cello and bass players, the decision to apply wasn’t made until shortly before the deadline.
“We talked about it two weeks before the application was due and said, ‘Wow, they’re sounding really good. Maybe we should submit for Midwest,’ said Link. “And, so Shelly Duell and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’ Literally, the day of our UIL contest, Mrs. Duell was in the back of the room with an iPad making a video recording it.”
That meant the orchestra had only one take for each of the two pieces they performed – “Fantasia on a 17th Century Tune” and “Choreography, Movements I & II.” And, they nailed them both – a fact that is gratifying for Link.
“You know a lot of people record for things, and they’ll do multiple recordings, over and over,” he said. “And, one thing I’m really proud of with this group is that we didn’t do multiple recordings. Whatever happened at UIL was what we sent.”
When pressed for what makes this particular group of musicians so good, Link is quick to credit the depth of the entire McKinney ISD music program, a factor that Midwest evaluators consider when selecting performing groups.
“The maturity of the program has really done this, and that’s greatly due to awesome middle school directors,” said Link. “We have so many great middle school directors in this district. And, that’s the bread and butter of the success of a high school program. I had somebody ask me, ‘What do you contribute your success of the program to?’ and I said, ‘Awesome middle school teachers.’ So, that’s really where it’s at.”
Bearing that out, this orchestra of 45 musicians features more freshman than Link has ever placed in Boyd’s most advanced group.
“Normally speaking, I don’t put a lot of freshmen in that group. This year was a very unique year. There were actually nine freshmen which, again, says a lot about our middle schools.”
Violinist Jordan Briggs is one of those freshmen. “I was really excited,” she said of hearing the news about being selected to perform at Midwest. “I kind of thought we could [make it] because we played really well. I know a lot of seniors who are really gifted here, and I was just kind of in awe. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh! We got chosen!’”
Performing at the Midwest Clinic is an experience that very few musicians have the opportunity to enjoy, and for so many of these students, the honor is the gratifying culmination of years of practice and dedication to their craft – both for themselves and for their director.
At first, cellist Makenzie Moon, a junior, thought the news of their acceptance was too good to be true. “At first, I didn’t quite believe it because, well it was April Fool’s Day. So, I was kind of like, ‘Wait a second …’ But, then it was really great, and everybody was cheering. And, Mr. Link was jumping up and down.”
Violinist Joann Mathews, a junior, was equally surprised and pleased. “I didn’t think we actually got it since it’s an international competition. It’s amazing how McKinney Boyd could actually get this. So, I was really surprised and really happy for Mr. Link since he has been working really hard for our group.”
The hard work is actually just getting started. There is much to be done between now and December.
“This morning, I woke up and went, ‘Oh, wow!’” Link said with a laugh.
“And, the first thing I had my little panic attack over was finances. The school district is going to help us, but there is a substantial amount that we’re going to have to come up with on our own. And, so I’m starting a task force committee of parents saying, ‘How can we raise money to help with this trip?’ So, that’s number one. To me the music part’s really going to be the easiest part. It’s going to be the logistics that’s probably going to be the toughest part,” he said.
Link will travel to Chicago in June for a performer information session and then will begin the arduous process of selecting the pieces that his orchestra will perform at Midwest – which could number as many as 11. Between the Midwest requirements and deciding what fits best for his orchestra, choosing pieces can be tricky.
“Everything has to line up: the composer, the publisher, the grade level, the balance between new music and [previously published music]. The balance has to match the criteria perfectly so that’s going to be a challenge right there,” Link said.
And then there’s actually playing the pieces in a manner worthy of the setting. “I think it’s going to be good for my students to see what’s out there beyond their bubble. I think they probably don’t have a full comprehension yet of what [the importance of] this is. I tried to explain to them when we first started to apply for it … to have the responsibility to know you’re playing somebody’s new piece of music for the first time. To me that’s a huge responsibility,” Link said.
The work that lies ahead is worth it, though. “Being selected for this honor is a great accomplishment for these students. I love that students have an achievement of this caliber that shows their accomplishment. It is so important in this day and age – where there are so many negative distractions for students – to have something they can feel positive about,” Link said.
And, for students like Jordan Briggs, who plans to go into music education, performing at the Midwest Clinic is one more huge positive that music has brought to her life. “One day in seventh grade, I realized that I don’t want to ever stop doing this,” Jordan said. “It’s just a feeling like you know you’re never going to want to stop. I couldn’t imagine not playing the violin.”
And, a feeling like that is worth braving a week of freezing weather in Chicago.
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About McKinney ISD
One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,750 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, four alternative schools and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at mckinneyisd.net.