Hear from our contributor Rachel Horvitz, Hill Country Middle School Orchestra Director and Midwest Clinic veteran, about what its like to be a contributing part of The Midwest Clinic's incredible history.
It was an overwhelming and thrilling feeling to receive the news that the Hill Country Middle School Symphony Orchestra had been accepted as a performing ensemble at the 71st Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference. I couldn’t wait to share the news with the students and families and in particular my colleagues and mentors who helped me achieve this monumental success for our full orchestra program. Immediately I thought about my own experiences of performing at Midwest with my high school orchestra, as having been a team member and community representative with Westlake High School, and now the Hill Country Symphony Orchestra was going to become a contributing part of The Midwest Clinic’s incredible history. I was completely in awe of the journey that I had in front of me. It was going to take a tremendous amount of teamwork and countless hours of planning and preparation to pull it off, but I lucked out by having an incredible team of students, staff, administration, travel professionals and friends that helped us with nearly every aspect.
Once I shared the news with our students and campus, it was fitting for us to bask in our excitement and to dream about all the fun we would have on the trip and what an amazing experience we would have. Sooner than later though, the travel planning process is upon you. During the spring we had time to draft our ideal ensemble and instrumentation, connect with families, and set up email communication so that we were well underway during the summer months. Planning for travel with a large instrumental group can be overwhelming, even for an experienced and well-organized director. I leaned on several peers who were well seasoned at taking big trips with ensembles and I would regularly ask for advice on nearly everything related to student group travel.
For anyone planning a trip with their ensemble, reach out to colleagues and see what has worked well for their groups and also what they might do differently. And of course, doing your own research will also help you prepare for the trip. Travel guidelines and expectations can differ by time and place and for us, traveling with a large instrumental group, it was important for everyone to know ahead of time what to expect on travel days and for us to collectively commit to following the plan. At times it seemed like an unending amount of tasks involved in planning for the trip. Just when you think you have it figured out, something comes up and challenges your plans whether it’s weather, transportation, technology or life takes an unexpected turn. Seeking input from others can give you a fresh perspective or better yet, a more efficient way of handling something. Sometimes all you need is assurance that everything is going to be more than okay and that you are doing a great job!
Taking middle school students on overnight out-of-state trips in our district is a big deal, the opportunities simply don’t come around that often. These type of trips are most often selective and occasional opportunities on a small or medium scale and here we were planning a trip for 72 students. Ice skating with 72 middle schoolers and an evening witnessing the legendary Chicago Symphony perform Beethoven Violin Concerto and Shostakovich No. 5?! We wouldn’t have missed it for the world! For several students, this was the first time they had traveled without family and for a few, it was the first time they had ever traveled on a plane. I am sure it was thrilling for the students but it is not always easy for the parents to step back and let go. You have this continuous oversight and access to directors, administration, group leaders and chaperones and yet at the same time, the goal is to allow the students to explore and experience travel with their peers and all of the planning, responsibility, decision making and most importantly, the compromise that comes with it.
Performance day was exhilarating and the concert was a great success. We refined our setup over the weeks as well as rehearsed on risers throughout the semester so we were ready for the stage. I think we were all a bit nervous but also really ready to just go for it and to play the notes off of the page. At that point, we had diligently developed our stamina to get through our 45-minute concert, which is no easy feat for middle school wind players. We were feeling the excitement not only of finally being in this amazing city but also of being supported by an audience who couldn’t wait to hear us and share in our success.
We were thrilled to interact with composers, professors, music directors and educators from so many backgrounds and specialties. For the student performers attending The Midwest Clinic, it is not just a big concert and fun trip with friends, it is also an experience that will amplify their perception of music education as a cultural value and how it is important, valued and diversified profession.
The trip was an outstanding success and almost one year later I continue to hear students talk about their Midwest experience as one of the most fun, exciting and thrilling things they have ever been a part of. The whole process was transformative for the students with lasting impacts that will continue to be recognized as time passes. The lifelong memories made and friendships developed will be kept close to their hearts. Students experienced in a very personal and individualized way the connection between putting in the hard work, dedication and commitment, and the resulting feeling that it was all worth it. Best of all, they got the opportunity to share these experiences with their friends and peers.
We are so lucky as music educators to teach a subject where the promise and demonstration of musicianship is a powerful motivator and reward. Also, being able to be a part of something bigger than yourself as an extension of your own interest and passion in music has its own empowering and benefits. Students became more observant and appreciative of how hard individuals were working and our community strengthened daily. As we neared performance day and certainly as the students look back, there is a collective recognition that every player mattered, that every person made a difference, and also that Chicago is one of the most exciting cities you can visit.
Rachel Horvitz received her Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of Texas at Austin in 2001. While at UT she studied under distinguished cello professor Phyllis Young and regularly performed with the UT Cello Choir and the UT Symphony along with instructing various ensembles in the UT String Project. Currently Ms. Horvitz is in her tenth year as the Hill Country Middle School Orchestra Director in Eanes ISD, located in Austin, Texas.