Racking up awards, Decatur High School fine arts students shineThe front steps of Decatur High School. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
In addition to the many athletic achievements of Decatur High students in the 2017-2018 school year, students in music and art also have reasons to brag.
Decatur High Band Festival Participation, Ratings, Awards
Decatur High’s band program features three different ensembles: the wind ensemble, which is the top band, followed by the symphonic band for intermediate players and the concert band for newer instrumentalists.
Prior to last year, the band was only split up into two ensembles, making each band vastly larger and harder to accommodate, according to band director Robert Truan. Now, each group is able to play music that fits their skill level.
As the band program has grown, so have its accolades and awards. Each year, the bands participate in Large Group Performance Evaluation (LGPE), for which they spend months preparing.
For LGPE, each band performs three pieces in front of a panel of judges for a ranking. Additionally, the bands each sight-read a piece of music – where they play a piece they have never seen before – in front of one judge, also to be ranked.
This past year, every single band received a superior score, the highest possible ranking, for both their performance and their sight-reading.
Additionally, the band program had 12 students selected to participate in the University of Georgia’s JanFest, an event where the top student musicians from the state come together for a weekend to rehearse and perform concerts. Of those 12 students, 10 were selected for the top honor bands.
The band has also received several other awards, listed below, for their performances over the past couple of years:
- American Prize Finalist: High School Band 2018 (waiting to hear placement)
- American Prize Finalist: Youth performance of American Music 2018 (waiting to hear placement)
- GMEA Exemplary Performance Award – 2017 Wind Ensemble 2017
- Citation of Excellence – Foundation of Music Education – 2017 Wind Ensemble
As an extracurricular subset of the band program, Decatur High’s marching band has continually performed well, especially given its size.
Since Truan joined Decatur’s band program in 2014, the marching band has grown from around 80 students to over 100. Still, the marching band is smaller than many others in Georgia, but the students compete at high levels.
Last year, the band’s show, based on the Twilight Zone, racked up a number of awards, including the following:
- Lafayette Marching Classic 2017 – 5th place champion
- 2nd in class AAAA Percussion
- Superior Band
- 2nd in class AAAA Color Guard
- 1st in class AAAA Band
- Superior percussion
- Superior Color Guard
- Excellent Drum Major
- 2nd in Class AAAA Drum Major
- Heart of Georgia Marching Invitational October 21, 2017 – 1st Runner-Up, 20th Annual Heart of GA Marching Invitational
- 2nd Best in Class AAAA – Color Guard
- Superior Percussion Performance
- Superior Band Performance
- Superior Color Guard Performance
- Best in Class AAAA – Band
- Best in Class AAAA – Percussion
- Lafayette Marching Classic 2017 – 5th place champion
Each year, several members of the Decatur High band choose to participate in extracurricular ensembles through programs outside of the school.
The Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra (ASYO) is one of the city’s most competitive youth ensembles. Run through the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the ASYO is open to rising eighth through twelfth graders.
Students in the ASYO must audition for one of 100 selective seats. Each year, the ASYO presents three concerts, and its members have exclusive invitations to participate in readings and master classes with the top artists in the instrumental music industry.
Two Decatur High students, sisters Aria (cello) and Ava Posner (violin), were both in the ASYO this past year, according to Truan.
Aria has been the principal cellist for the past two years, meaning she earned the top position. Ava was third chair of the second violins.
Ava is also a pianist and won the Concerto Competition of the Alpharetta Symphony Orchestra, allowing her to perform a Mozart piano concerto with them in March.
In the past, Decatur has had several other students take part in the ensemble, including Nathaniel Wolff (oboe) and Katie Kearney (trombone).
Another honor wind ensemble, the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony (AYWS), has also put some Decatur faces on its stage.
AYWS is open to student wind and percussion instrumentalists (no strings). The ensemble rehearses and performs grade five and six (collegiate and professional level) original wind band literature composed over a wide span of stylistic compositional periods.
As an ensemble, it is “one of the most visible ambassadors of culture and youth performance for Atlanta and the state of Georgia,” according to its website.
While many Decatur students have taken part in AYWS in the past, three students were members this past year, including Nicholas Goldfarb (alto saxophone), Sawyer Prichard (trumpet, first chair) and Emily Park (trumpet).
Like the other two ensembles, the Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra (EYSO) is a highly selective program for high school students.
Taking place at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, members of the EYSO play under direction of Emory faculty member Paul Bhasin.
Last year, Decatur student Jameson Wall (viola) was a member of the EYSO. Wall played the french horn in Decatur’s band, but played the viola in the EYSO.
Governor’s Honors Program
This summer, several Decatur High Students will be attending the Governor’s Honors Program, a selective summer program for Georgia high school students that takes place at Berry College in Rome, Ga.
Among those students, three are attending for music performance:
- Kat Parler (Clarinet)
- Jenny Capriola (Percussion)
- Scott Johnson (Voice)
District Honor Band
District Honor Band is a program that allows the top students in an assigned district to audition and perform in a selective ensemble.
The selected students come together for two days to rehearse and put together a program.
This past year, Decatur High had 37 student participants in the District Honor Band.
Participation in All-State Band and Orchestra is one of the highest honors for a student instrumentalist.
Georgia’s All-State Band and Orchestra is run through the Georgia Music Educator’s Association. Each year, students who meet a minimum score requirement at the District Honor Band are invited to a more competitive round of auditions for the All-State level.
Students accepted into All-State are placed into one of several ensembles. They spend a few days rehearsing together before a final performance.
Last year, Decatur had 11 students accepted into All-State Band and one in All-State Orchestra.
Aria Posner was the principal cellist of the full orchestra, and her sister Ava was principal of the 2nd violins.
Jameson Wall made All-State Orchestra on viola two years ago, and violinist Reagan Borland made it past the first audition.
Two other string players auditioned, making a total of 6 string players from Decatur to try out – a notable accomplishment given that Decatur does not have a string program.
Like All-State Band, All-State Chorus is one of the most competitive programs for high school chorus students.
30 Decatur High chorus students attended All-State Chorus last year, putting the school third overall in the state for number of participants, behind two performing arts magnet schools.
All-State Reading Chorus
All-State Reading Chorus is a separate All-State program in which students have to pass a selective sight-singing audition, then spend 2 days reading over 100 pieces from various styles and genres.
Seven DHS Chorus students made this All-State Reading Chorus this past year, which was the most of any high school in the state. Those students include:
- Eliza Craft
- Julia Grigni
- Scott Johnson
- Veronica McClennen
- Robin Tucker
- Jameson Wall
Schuler Awards (Musical Theater)
The theater program at Decatur High has also seen significant growth in recent years. A new musical theater class was offered last year, allowing students to combine chorus and theater into one passion.
In 2017, the school competed for its first time at the Shuler Awards, a Tonys-style awards ceremony for high school musical theater programs.
Decatur’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” received one nomination (best supporting actor) and four honorable mentions (choreography, set design, musical direction and pit direction).