Symphonic Orchestra performs at the prestigious state music conference


Kim Montgomery

Thirty minutes before the concert at the Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) workshop conference, members of Symphonic Orchestra rehearse “Libertango” under the direction of orchestra teacher Ed Sandheinrich Jan. 24. Throughout the three-day workshop, performance groups were given half an hour to tune, warm up and wrap up the final details before their performance. “Everyone was awesome in their playing and their professional behavior. It was hard for me to go from point A to point B at the resort because, well, it's a crowded mess, but people kept stopping me to say how much they loved the performance,” Sandheinrich said.

Honored by the state of Missouri, 40 students and 40 instruments are packed into one bus for a three-hour drive to the Missouri Music Educators Association (MMEA) workshop conference at Tan-Tar-A Estates Jan. 22-25. 

“The bus ride was long and a little boring—we got on the bus at 5 a.m. But we prepared for MMEA for so long that it was all muscle memory, and the bus ride was nothing compared to what we had already been through to get to the place,” cellist and senior Wonsang Lee said.

Symphonic Orchestra, under the direction of orchestra teacher Ed Sandheinrich, was one of the handfuls of performing groups around the state selected to perform at the annual workshop. The group concluded their months of preparation Jan. 24: the day of the performance.

“A group applies for MMEA the year before they perform. We submitted a recording of three pieces that we made in the orchestra room; they should show a variety of styles and abilities, which is what’s tricky about the application,” Sandheinrich said.

Sandheinrich’s orchestra was last selected for the 2013-14 conference, but this year was with a whole new set of students.

You have to make sure that you have a group that is good enough to get you in and that the next group is good enough to give an excellent performance,” Sandheinrich said. “Luckily, the kids here make that less of a worry for me. The acceptance letter arrives in June.

Sandheinrich altered much of the class dynamic and schedule from previous years as this performance required different types of rehearsals than the usual school concerts require.

Usually concerts are just concerts. This conference was important because it gives the group a long-term goal and is a great way to showcase what we do to the state. Schools rarely hear each other’s orchestras, and this way, I can put the group on display as a way to say, ‘here is what these kids can do,’” Sandheinrich said. “When I go to other groups’ performances at the conference, I look at it as a way to learn new repertoire or to see different ways of performing repertoire that I already know.”

To prepare for this prestigious honor, many guest conductors visited the class to give their insight on the pieces and help improve the technique and musicality. 

“I think the guest conductor that was the most helpful was Dr. Darwin Aquino. He’s so fun to work with, and he really knows how to get us to make the music come alive. He helped us a lot with intonation and phrasing, and he definitely helped us improve,” concertmaster and junior Salma Ahmed said.

Ahmed performed at the same conference Jan. 23 with her community orchestra: Webster University’s Young People’s Symphonic Orchestra (YPSO). 

“Performing with YPSO allowed me to know what I should expect. I knew what procedures we would go through before performing,” Ahmed said. “It also allowed me to give advice to some of the other members of the orchestra: that it would be cramped on stage or that it would be hot in the concert hall.”

Regardless, Ahmed’s familiarity with the procedure did not eliminate the added pressure of being a concertmaster.

“I was extremely nervous to go on stage even though I had performed the night before. Being the concertmaster, there’s an added pressure to be perfect, to be the ‘model’ in the orchestra. I knew that pressure was even greater due to the fact we were playing in front of music educators who know exactly how the music should go and if and where you mess up,” Ahmed said.

Despite the nerves and pressure, Ahmed is proud of the performance. 

“Honestly, it was the best we’ve ever played. We were all nervous because we knew we’d be playing in front of people who could point out every mistake,” Ahmed said. “We all knew this performance meant a lot to Mr. S, but those nerves helped us and made us feel that we had something to prove. I was really proud of us after we had finished, and I could tell Mr. S was pleased with us as well.”