On Saturday, the University of Rhode Island hosted the 2024 Southern New England Honor Band in the Fine Arts Center Recital Hall with Timothy Rhea serving as the guest conductor for the performance.
The band is composed of high schoolers from all around Rhode Island and even includes some members from Connecticut and Massachusetts. Over the course of two days, the students got together, rehearsed their music and performed in front of a sizable audience at URI.
“We met yesterday and had six hours of rehearsal, then today we had another five hours of rehearsal and that is all we had,” Rhea said.
Brian Cardany, director of bands and festival coordinator says that the music got sent out to students a few weeks before their first rehearsal, but they were learning it all on their own. For most of the students, this is the fastest learning process that they have experienced.
“Usually in high school they spend two or three months getting ready for a performance,” Cardany said.
This system, however, has been working for quite some time. Cardany said they have been hosting this event since 1995, and the practice time has been compact since then.
Cardany selects the students by reaching out to high school band directors from different New England schools and asks that their students send in audition tapes for him to then select.
“It’s one of the hardest parts of the whole process,” Cardany said.
Despite the tough decision, the audition process yields many young performers looking to join.
Rhea is in charge of choosing the music, and has experience conducting bands similar to this one. Currently, he is the director of bands and music activities at Texas A&M University and has been there for 29 years. He said that choosing the music is always very important.
“You want something that challenges the students, but you want something that appeals to them, as well as the parents,” Rhea said.
One of the pieces the ensemble performed was “Illumination” by David Maslanka, a composer that Rhea tries to incorporate into his shows as much as he can.
“We had him on campus a few months before he passed away and he is just one of my favorite composers,” Rhea said.
Rhea mentioned before they began the piece that Maslanka writes music that all ages can perform and that music is something that can connect people of any age together.
The other pieces the ensemble performed were “His Honor” by Henry Fillmore, “Song for Lyndsay” by Andre Boysen Jr., “Third Suite” by Robert Jager and they ended with “Albanian Dance” by Shelley Hanson.
The pieces Rhea chose were all different as some were slower, and some were more uplifting, but he wanted to allow the students to get a feel for all different kinds of music.
A common theme throughout the show was talking about inspiring the young performers to continue their music education throughout their lives. Rhea said that allowing students to do what they love musically allows them to see their potential as musicians.
After the final piece concluded, the band received a standing ovation from the crowd and Rhea gave a few final remarks about the journey the band had gone through.
“What I’ve experienced over the last three days has been absolutely wonderful,” he said. “It was wonderful to see how they progressed as musicians.”
Both Rhea and Cardany said that they hope that the experience has fostered an even deeper love for music within the students. Their goal, they said, is that young musicians will continue to pursue music throughout their lifetimes.