George Band Selected for Midwest Band Clinic
George Band Selected for Midwest Band Clinic
Posted on 04/10/2014
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There is no more prestigious honor for a high school or junior high band than to be chosen to perform at the Midwest Clinic. Never before has a junior high band from Arkansas been selected. Until now. George Junior High’s Symphonic Band has been invited to perform at the event in Chicago in December.

George was picked from numerous entries from all over the world. It wasn’t the first time George band director Mike Echols had submitted a recording made by his school’s band. He and his assistant, Chris Moore, and all of the band members were elated to receive the invitation.


“Receiving that email that invited us to the Midwest Clinic was breathtaking,” said Echols. “This is historic. It is great for Springdale, Northwest Arkansas, Arkansas and all of our district schools. We need to honor all of the people who help us do what we do.”

Moore added, “This is a tribute to every student who ever has played in the band at George Junior High.”

An eighth grade student who figures to make the trip, Fah Sysavanh, said, “This is the greatest opportunity ever. We were so surprised.”


Another student, Zealtiel Zumiga, said, “It blows my mind. We’ve worked hard but I never thought we had a chance. We found out after class one day. We reacted by dancing and cheering.”

Dancing and cheering is permissible. After all, the Midwest Clinic is in its 68th year and since 1965, when it became an international event, only three bands from Arkansas ever have been selected to perform. Springdale High was invited in 1993, Springdale Har-Ber High was chosen in 2011 and now George Junior High has been given this amazing opportunity.

“George was selected from among the best junior high bands in the world,” said Jeremy Ford, Har-Ber’s band director. “Bands from all over the United States, China, Australia, Japan and numerous other countries apply for a very few spots. There will be junior high, high school, college and professional bands that will perform. It is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

The Midwest Clinic is THE gathering of music educators. Ford notes, “Somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 music teachers from all over the world will descend on Chicago. They expect the bands they hear in concert to be the best.  It’s the biggest thing in our profession.”

George principal Don Hoover said, “The George band has had the Midwest Clinic as its goal for five years. It has been a driving force and focus for our students to create the conditions for our band program to one day produce a recording of such high caliber that our school would be chosen to go the Midwest Band Conference and Clinic.


“This honor is a testimony that our staff and students can do anything we put in front of them. Congratulations to Mike Echols and Chris Moore whose persistence to make the George Band the best has made this possible.”

Echols appreciates the compliment but said, “It’s all about the kids. The most important thing is that they connect with the music at such a personal level that it will change their lives and their children’s lives.


“In Chicago they will see most of the living music composers. There will be 600 booths. They will see, touch and test numerous instruments. They will see $30,000 flutes.”

Moore added, “Last year Mike’s daughter Olivia was testing a flute and playing a Japanese number she had learned by heart. Two Japanese girls happened to come along. They picked up flutes and finished with her. It was amazing. Music truly is the international language.”


Since many of the booths at the conference are manned by colleges, Echols noted, “Many of our students will be inspired to think about college. These exhibits are bound to get their attention. Plus, the colleges are definitely interested in the attendees. They know these students are the best or they wouldn’t be selected to perform.”


Just how was George selected?


“We recorded two numbers,” Echols said. “They were Circus Days written by Karl. L. King and Symphony #4 Bookmarks From Japan. We played the second movement, which is Nihonbashi by Julie Giroff.


“Members of the Midwest Clinic Board review all the music that is submitted. They don’t know who the bands are or where they are from. Then they look at the band’s video. If that is good they look at references. Finally they look at the application. That’s when they know who you are.”


Now, of course, the work begins. There are plenty of challenges. Current ninth graders will be in high school by December and are not eligible to make the trip.


“We will audition with our current eighth graders, who will be in the ninth grade, and our incoming eighth graders,” Echols explained. “Depending on the music we choose and cost of transportation, we will take between 45 and 70 students.


“We will be required to play grade 2, grade 3 and grade 4 level music. Level 4 is high school. Fortunately we have been playing level 4 music for several years. We will perform a 45 minute concert in Chicago.”


Ford said the practice time is enormous.


“Having a band ready to perform at that level by December is very difficult,” Ford noted. “The band will need a lot of practice time. It’s difficult to rehearse and raise money for the trip at the same time.”


Choosing the music to play can be difficult, too. Echols and Moore already have heard from several composers.

        “Composers will be dying for George to play their music at the convention,” Ford said. “If their music gets played, they will sell as many as 1,000 copies to teachers who will want to use it. It has to be the best music.”


Finally, financing the trip is a major priority. The George band played at Chattanooga four years ago and Biloxi the summer before last. They took school buses to save money on transportation. They will have to charter to Chicago.


“I don’t know the total cost yet,” Echols said. “We will have to pay for rooms, which the conference provides participating bands at the best possible rate, transportation and meals. We would like to take our students to hear the Chicago Symphony which is $35 a head. Obviously, there are other cultural experiences we want them to have while we are there. We will be asking for community support.”


Community support should come as George makes history as the first junior high band from Arkansas ever to get the opportunity to perform at the Midwest Clinic.