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GHS symphonic band makes history

The Greenville High School band program has, for what seems like the umpteenth time in recent years, made history.

Specifically, the Greenville High School Symphonic Band participated in the Alabama Bandmasters Association Music Performance Assessment in Enterprise last week, where the band performed level-A music—the most difficult level possible on a scale of A-G—for the very first time in that setting.

“When we went to level-A music, this year’s goal was to experience it, gain from the experience and maybe in a couple of years we’ll be able to get the ratings that we want,” said GHS band director Brett Johnson.

Johnson’s timetable got moved up a couple of years after the symphonic band scored straight superior ratings from three different judges on their very first attempt at level-A music.

Superior ratings, or a rating of 1, are the highest honor that a judge can bestow.  A 2 means excellent, a 3 is good, a 4 is fair and a 5 is poor.

The band was judged on seven different criteria, with all of them pertaining strictly to the musical performance itself.  There are no points for presentation in symphonic band.  Such criteria included the tune, accuracy of the rhythm and instrumentation. 

Unlike marching band evaluations, the judges get to see the sheet music of the various band members while they perform.

Johnson said that his doubts about the difficulty of the performance evaporated as his students began to play.

“When we got on stage, it seemed like everything clicked,” he said. “Everybody was focused in—it was literally a collaborative effort between me and the students.  It’s a weird feeling—when you perform music at that level, everybody has to be in tune to one another.  I don’t know how to explain it other than that. 

“They elevated their game at the highest stage—maybe it was the intensity of the moment that pushed them above expectations. But when the pressure was on, they made it happen.”

The GHS band is no stranger to superior ratings, as they’ve earned straight superior marks in marching band, jazz band and others.

But in the Greenville High School band’s 66-year history, never had the feat been accomplished for symphonic band, much less while performing level-A music.

A video can be found on the band’s Facebook page of Johnson delivering the news to an eager bus-full of students.

Johnson, admittedly in a teasing fashion, drip-fed the news to his students slowly over time until it dawned on them all what they’d just accomplished.  For Johnson, delivering the news was almost as fun as the achievement itself.

“I told the kids before they performed that with the level of music they were performing, if we could get a two I would be OK with that,” Johnson said.  “If we could get a 2-2-2, I would be ecstatic because it’s just so demanding.

“But when I got off stage, I knew that we had a chance to do something special.

When I received the scores and started walking back to the bus to figure out what I was going to say to the kids, I kind of let it linger for a little bit because I wanted to build the anticipation.  It was an exciting moment just to be able to tell the scores to the kids and see their faces and excitement play out in real time.  We’ve been practicing this music since January, and just seeing all of that work pay off and come to fruition was an awesome experience to see as a director.”

The GHS band’s mountain of accomplishments continues to grow at a precipitous pace, but Johnson insists that there is always room to grow.

“Now we’ve got to maintain,” Johnson said. “The kids know what the top feels like, and we’ve got to make sure that they don’t sink down back to a level of complacency.

“The last thing we want to do is reach that level and have a misstep and go back to a score that we’re not accustomed to with the program. We’ve done some wonderful things, but there are also hopefully more wonderful things to come.”