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More than 100 musicians from northwestern PA are in Warren

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Youngsville’s Justin McGranaghan (left) and Warren’s Sydney Govoni rehearse Friday for the PMEA District 2 Band Festival. They are among nine percussionists and a band of more than 140 that will perform at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Warren Area High School.

The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) District 2 Band Festival will be on stage at Warren Area High School at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The concert will feature 13 Warren County students: Anna Alcorn (cornet), Esther Eagle (alto saxophone), and Caleb Penley (trombone) from Eisenhower; Camden Drayer (trombone), Colin Drayer (percussion), Sydney Govoni (percussion), Jadzia Johnson (alto saxophone), Tyler Johnson (cornet), and Ethan Monroe (trombone) from Warren; and Max Atwood (tuba), Matthew Headfield (alto saxophone), Justin McGranaghan (percussion), and Careena Monza (flute) from Youngsville.

It’s a big change for the students from their normal band classes.

Not only will they be directed by guest conductor Christopher Gnagey, the sound the group produces will be unusual for them – it may be a first for some.

There was a district festival in 2020, but the regional event was not held.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Youngsville's Careena Monza (flute) and Matthew Headfield (alto saxophone) rehearse Friday for the PMEA District 2 Band Festival among more than 140 students from 37 schools. Warren County School District is hosting the festival at Warren Area High School. The public performance is at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $4 for adults, $3 for students and seniors.

There were no in-person district nr regional band festivals last year due to COVID-19. There were virtual auditions and the students were seated based on those auditions, but there was no collective performance.

When the president of PMEA District 2 asked how many of the musicians had been to a previous district festival, a small percentage raised their hands.

“This is a first-time experience for probably 80 percent of the band,” Eisenhower Band Director Mark Napolitan said.

“It’s exciting,” Youngsville Band Director Cindy Scheid said. “They get to be in a very large ensemble – about 140 musicians.”

Spending time with other students who are passionate about music is another advantage.

“Even if they aren’t going to pursue music in the future, it’s an excellent opportunity for them to be around like-minded individuals with the same goals,” Napolitan said. “The learning experience is very different from what they typically have. These are the things the kids go back and tell their peers about.”

“They get to work with other people, the guest conductor, and perform music that they may not normally be able to,” Gnagey said.

High school bands are not always able to field instrumentalists for every part in the score. That is not the case at district band.

The pieces chosen for the festival require high-caliber musicians on all parts. Warren County schools might have more than one instrumentalist in most sections – but niche instruments are uncommon.

There are oboes and bass clarinets in the district band. There are sections of euphoniums and tubas.

There will be nine percussionists performing on Saturday.

That’s new for Govoni, of Warren, whose audition landed her in first chair.

She is in both the concert band and the orchestra at Warren. “I am the only percussionist in orchestra,” she said. “I just love being on the stage with 140 people. The main thing with band is being together.”

Before the festival, in addition to hours of practice every day, Govoni has been listening to a recording of the district band festival she participated in as a sophomore.

“I’ve been counting the days,” Govoni said.

The experience was living up to her expectations as of Friday afternoon.

“From the very beginning, I got chills,” she said. “I’m glad the music sounds so good.”

The camaraderie aspect of the event is one of the parts that stands out for Gnagey. “This is how I met (Warren Area High School band director) Marcia (White) 20-some years ago at an All-State Band Festival,” he said. That connection has lasted over the years and ended up bringing a director from Baltimore to a festival in Warren.

The pandemic may have an impact on the depth of the friendships developed at band festivals.

In the past, students auditioned on Wednesday, then rehearsed Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning.

This year, the decision was made to have virtual auditions and limit rehearsals to Friday and Saturday.

And, there were concerns that it might be difficult to find a host district.

“Warren County School District never wavered,” White said. “PMEA was asking if the district was ok with it.”

“They said, ‘we want this for the kids,'” White said.

The directors were ready with three options, in case the COVID rules changed suddenly. A traditional, in-person concern was their first choice.

And that of the musicians. “I’m just glad we’re having it,” Govoni said.

“It’ll be a great concert,” Napolitan said.

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