Band program breaks school record with 40 all-district selections


Brianna Gatch

The band performs at their fall concert.

The Clover Hill band program made school history with their record-breaking 40 acceptances into the all-district band, with 18 of the students earning eligibility for the all-state band, following auditions on Saturday, Jan. 7 at Thomas Dale High School. 

Band director Brianna Gatch is proud that the Cavaliers doubled the average total of 15 to 20 students accepted into the band for each school. Clover Hill’s previous acceptance totals were 34 last year and 24 the year before last. 

At the audition, the students competed against musicians from the 50 other schools in the district. According to Gatch, each student was required to perform a blind audition in front of 50 judges, one from each school.  

“[The students] come in and play their blind audition, which entails scales, sight reading and a prepared piece,” Gatch said. 

Scores are then added up to determine who earns placement in the all-district band. Every student who makes it also receives an invitation to the all-district band event in February at James River High School, where they practice together for two days before performing. Guest conductors are invited to conduct the students in their concert. 

Additionally, the 18 students who are all-state eligible will audition for the all-state band at the end of February at James Madison University. Gatch believes that the main difference between all-district and all-state is the audition’s difficulty level. 

“It’s a very similar process to the district band [auditions] that we had, except this one is statewide and the audition materials are a little more challenging,” Gatch said. 

The students who make the all-state band will participate in a group performance in Richmond at the end of April. 

To prepare for the all-district auditions, Gatch staged practice blind auditions, in addition to reviewing the 12 major scales and sight reading. 

“The week in class leading up to the auditions, we did mock auditions where I was actually behind the screen, and we practiced the whole process of the blind audition just to get them used to not speaking and staying anonymous,” Gatch said. “And then I was able to give them feedback as well. So I think all those types of things helped them out with their audition.”

The list of students accepted into all-district band. The names of the all-state eligible students are in bold. (Brianna Gatch)

Senior Jacob Alexander, who plays the clarinet, arrived early in the morning on the day of the audition. He checked in and then went to practice more before it was his turn.

“We went to the auditorium and just started practicing until they started auditions around 10 o’clock,” Alexander said. “They usually call in groups of five, so clarinets one through five and six through 10 [and so on].”

Alexander played a prepared piece that he had practiced since October. In addition, he played the entire range of his clarinet and did sight reading. The prepared pieces were the same for all students who played the same instrument to ensure fair competition.

“[The prepared piece] is about 28 measures, which is about a minute long … so you have a pretty wide range to practice and then you have scales,” Alexander said. “They call two of your scales and then chromatic scale, which is the full range of your instrument all the way up and down. And then you have a sight reading which is about eight bars, and you have 30 seconds to look at it and then you have to play it [after] the first time ever looking at it.”

Alexander earned first chair for the symphonic band, which is the highest position for his instrument in the district. He is proud of his results because he practiced extensively before the audition in the hopes of finally receiving first chair, an honor that he had yet to get after auditioning for the all-district band every year since seventh grade.

“I’ve gotten in every single year, but I had never gotten first chair [until this year],” Alexander said. “And so I worked really, really hard on this audition.”

While Alexander was a mainstay in the all-district band for years, this was the first time that some students, including sophomore Benjamin Merkel, earned acceptance.

“I’m really excited to have made the band because I’ve never made it before,” Merkel said. “It’s very rewarding for all of my hard work to have paid off.”

Merkel will occupy the eighth chair in the horn section of the symphonic band at the all-district event. He is excited to play alongside the top musicians from the district, and he is thrilled that many of them are from Clover Hill.

“It’s really awesome that so many of us made it into the band this year, and I can’t wait to play music with my friends, as well as other strong musicians from other schools around the district,” Merkel said.