PARIS — Approximately 300 students from nearly 40 middle and high schools performed at the District II Instrumental Festival at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in Paris on Saturday.

Sarah Dow-Shedlarski, District II Chair, said a huge amount of work goes into putting on the festival each year.  For the past four years, the festival has been hosted at Oxford Hills.

“(Students) prepare an audition in October, and a lot of preparation goes into that. After that, they are chosen for an ensemble,” said Dow-Shedlarski. “Then, they get a folder of music, usually around Thanksgiving. They have about a month to prepare for the concert, and they come here ready to work, as a whole bunch of kids who have never worked together before.”

Kyle Jordan, band and orchestra director at OHCHS, said the concert is the culmination of months of hard work. From November to the concert date, students are responsible for learning their own music. Once Districts roll around, the students are shipped off to the high school, where they spend two days rehearsing with guest conductors before the concert.

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids who represent 40-plus schools come together as individuals and represent their schools and their communities, end up here and put together the music they do,” said Jordan.

During the school year, students do their best to learn the material. But, Jordan said, the real magic starts happening the Friday before the concert, when students start to connect to the director, and the band.

“The energy level really ramps up once they get here … to practice it on their own and with their directors is nice, but then once they get here and hear the whole collaboration, the whole band, the whole orchestra, that’s when the energy level really kicks in for them,” said Jordan.

And, according to Jordan, a lot of work goes into inviting qualified guest conductors each year.

“We bring in some phenomenal conductors from either in-state or out-of-state … to give the students a really different perspective of who they can work with and learn from,” Jordan said.

The guest conductor for the middle school orchestra was Meg Dagon, the elementary orchestra director for the Belmont Public School system in Massachusetts. Krystle Smith, band director at Westbrook Middle School, led the middle school band. Robert Smith, director of instrumental music at the Hopkins School in New Haven, Connecticut, directed the high school orchestra, and Philip Edelman, an assistant professor of music education at the University of Maine School of Performing Arts conducted the high school band.

In addition to giving students space to experience new leadership and a new perspective, guest conductors can also serve as handy recruitment tools for students thinking about pursuing band or music in college.

“One of our conductors this year is the director of band” at the University of Maine, said Jordan. “It’s a recruitment tool for him. We’ve had conductors from universities in New Hampshire, universities in the midwest. It gives them (students) some perspective that this doesn’t end when they leave high school.”

Another hurdle is the sheer logistics of running the festival. During rehearsals on Friday, 300 students were bused in during a regular school day. According to Jordan, a huge amount of work from faculty and volunteers goes into making sure the festival happens.

“The old saying is it takes a village, it really does, to put on this festival here. We have an outstanding school community that makes this all happen,” said Jordan.

And according to festival volunteer and OHCHS Choir director Dennis Boyd, a dedicated group of student and teacher volunteers, as well as the booster club, help make the festival possible.

Oxford Hills Middle School Band teacher Rachel Potter is one such volunteer. She said five or six of her students made it into the band out of the 17 that auditioned.

“I encourage students to audition for it; I had 17 audition this year. It’s a good experience, regardless if you get in or not,” said Potter.

And Jordan said there are many transferable skills students learn from participating in a festival like District II; like the reality of rejection. Jordan said he tells his students to think about the audition process as a job interview.

“You’re competing against yourself … that’s the only person you’re up against. You learn the music, you take the audition process as an opportunity to challenge yourself,” Jordan said. “Make it or don’t make it, they put themselves out there to try.”

Part of that magic is when students stop thinking about themselves as individual performers, and start to jell as a group; students come together under one roof and manage to make music.

“There’s no competitive nature to this, every single person in the group has the same goal,” Jordan said. “It’s about the group. It’s not about the individual anymore.”

Alex Mitchell from Poland Regional High School plays the trumpet as he and his bandmates practice during the morning.

Cooper Winslow from Lake Region High School keeps his eyes on conductor Philip Edelman as he plays the baritone saxophone.

Alex Mitchell from Poland Regional High School plays the trumpet as he and his bandmates practice during the morning.

University of Maine assistant professor of music Philip Edelman gives instructions to the high school band performers as they practice the song “Legacy Fanfare” by Ryan Nowlin. Brewster Burns photo

Edward Little High School’s Loren Gardner plays the clarinet as he rehearses “Legacy Fanfare.”

Edward Little High School’s Loren Gardner plays the clarinet as he rehearses “Legacy Fanfare.”

Meg Dagon from Belmont, Massachusetts, directs the middle school orchestra during rehearsals Saturday.

George Ayer from Morse High School keeps his eyes on the music as he practices.

Saco Middle School’s Maia Gustafson keeps her eyes on her music during a rest.

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