Despite the adverse events that seem to be following Havre de Grace High School Band and Chorus, the group managed to perform and compete in the All American Music Festival in Orlando, Fla., this month.
This year's event was the first time Havre de Grace got to perform at AAMF in two years. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the AAMF was canceled.
With a war in progress, there was a real concern for the safety of the students. "Many schools canceled trips," said David Tramontana, chorus director at Havre de Grace High School.
The band and chorus were allowed to attend. "There was no concern for our safety. Our minds were focused on competition," Tramontana said.
AAMF "provides an unforgettable experience for students from around the world - concert bands, marching bands, jazz bands, orchestras, choral groups, color guards, drill teams, dance groups and other performance groups," Tramontana said.
Schools from all over the country compete for trophies. Yet it is the performance aspect that excites many schools, he said.
Havre de Grace was the first band to lead off this year's parade. "It is a tremendous thrill to march past people. It was a big rush for our students," band director Richard Hauf said.
With key placement in Disney World on the Tomorrowland Stage, Havre de Grace had a captive audience next to the theme park's busiest ride, Space Mountain. "No pressure, no judges. We played almost half an hour's worth of music," Tramontana said.
Competition is a term Tramontana and Hauf use sparingly. "We want the students to perform well and get great feedback from musicians and judges," Hauf said.
They feel that by de-emphasizing the competition, students can concentrate on doing their best. Competition is so played down that neither director spoke of Havre de Grace's placement (they ranked third).
During the performance, judges comprising college music directors and other musicians speak into a tape recorder, noting the group's flaws and achievements. "We're happy with the comments we've received," Hauf said. The team earned marks of "Excellent."
With music ranging from American folk songs to revamped medieval chants, Havre de Grace sought to make the competition interesting. One song, "Daemon Irrepit Callidus," is about the "conflict between religion and evil," said Tramontana. "It's a very sinister piece of music."
Along with performance comes rehearsal. The group meets during class periods with some weekends. Students are even pulled out of classes as needed for extra practice time.
While at AAMF, Havre de Grace students got to listen to other schools perform. "That was very good for us," Hauf said. "You learn a lot from listening."
Havre de Grace's band and chorus performance ensemble numbers about 130 students. That's approximately 20 percent of a school of 650 students. "Standards have gone up over 10 years," says Tramontana. This year marks Hauf's 10th year at Havre de Grace and Tramontana's seventh.
Of these students, a majority are from grades 10 through 12. The freshman band and chorus are in separate development ensembles. Hauf says the goal is to allow students to go to AAMF once every three years.
In sending such a large group on a trip of this scale, money had to be raised. Hauf and Tramontana gave credit to the booster organization. "They do most of the legwork," said Tramontana.
The boosters are mainly parents with students in the music program. Other parents join just to help out. This year, with the help of the boosters, more than $25,000 was raised through private, personal and city donations.
That funding allowed for students to pay about $100 each with more funding going to students in need. The trip was well worth it, Hauf said. "We want to give students the opportunity to remember for the rest of their lives. ... They have earned this opportunity."
After the success of the music festival, Havre de Grace band and chorus are still hard at work. With an overall rating of "Superior" in county competitions, the school is preparing for state. "We're looking to step up," said Tramontana of the school's approach to the competition.
At AAMF, the students gave "top-notch performances at the highest level possible. They performed as good as they could have performed," said Hauf. But with critiques from college, county and state judges, the group is looking to have the best performance possible.
The band and chorus perform at the state festival on May 1. They plan on putting to use the comments from AAMF in their presentation. Tramontana adds, "Havre de Grace is thriving, we're doing wonderful things."