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The City Journals

Alta High brings home sweepstakes award for top music department

May 18, 2018 10:11AM ● By Julie Slama

Alta High’s wind symphony won first place at the recent WorldStrides festival in New York City, helping to bring the music department the sweepstakes award. (Courtesy Alta High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It was an experience like none other for 186 Alta High performing arts students this past spring break.

Joined by 40 chaperones, as well as their directors, music students in the Alta delegation competed against 20 other schools nationwide in the Riverside Church near Central Park in New York City.

“There were screams” when Alta music department won the sweepstakes award at the WorldStrides festival, instrumental director Caleb Shabestari said. As a result, their suitcases may have been a little bit heavier as they brought home three large trophies and several plaques. 

The wind symphony received first place, scoring 94 of the 100 points possible; the instrumental program receiving first place overall; all choirs received gold ratings; and the jazz band, orchestra, Madrigals and concert choir took second-place honors. 

In addition, four students — junior Avery Gunnell, sophomore Hannah Stark, sophomore Brianne Crismon, and senior Sydney Pexton — were recognized for their accompaniment or solos with the Maestro Award.

Those students, as well as the wind symphony, have been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall next year, Shabestari said.

“We’ve had some phenomenal performances and it has been so rewarding for the hard work our students have done,” he said.

After each performance, the judges came on stage to give the students feedback.

“The wind symphony was told they were ‘singing through their instruments.’ We have a very strong low brass section and had some very difficult literature that featured them, so we pulled it off very well,” Shabestari said about the auditioned group, of which about 80 percent, or 45 members, were able to make the trip.

He said all the groups listened to other performers for their style as well as their balance, intonation, energy and articulation.

“We chose New York at the right time for all our programs,” Shabestari said. “We planned it for one and one-half years as an opportunity for our students to appreciate the performing arts there. Our music students could experience different music than that in Utah or on the West Coast. There is a different approach and sound. Each community reflects the community where they live so it was really cool to hear music where it is thriving on the East Coast.”

While the musicians had their rehearsals and clinics, the drama students had a Broadway workshop where they learned from those who perform “Anastasia” on Broadway, he said.

All students had the opportunity to experience Broadway theater. The students split into small groups and could see several musicals such as “Wicked” and “The Lion King.”

The groups also explored the Big Apple, checking out Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, 9-11 Memorial, Empire State Building and other sites. Some students also got extra tickets for plays or late-night television shows.

“It was really adventurous to get 200 people in a subway together and ferry them to Ellis Island and back,” Shabestari said. “It was my first time there and I was able to see my great-great-great grandfather’s name on the memorial wall.” 

Their hard work also helped them to prepare for state competition, he said, as wind symphony, Madrigals, chamber orchestra and drama students were scheduled to compete in late April and May.

Amongst those competitions, Shabestari was kicking off the 2018–19 marching band season to prepare students to march in parades, including those locally in Sandy, Draper and Pepperwood, over the summer before the competitive season begins in the fall.

There already are plans for students to tour Disneyland next spring, where they will use a professional recording studio and in two years, Washington, D.C., to take part in the Memorial Day Parade.