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This is how Riverhead students won a national music contest

05/24/2016 7:00 AM |

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Last month, members of Riverhead High School’s chorus, jazz band and chamber orchestra packed their bags and headed to Boston for a national music competition, the WorldStrides Onstage Heritage Festival.

As first-time participants, the student musicians pulled off a spectacular feat: They won the Festival Sweepstakes Award, given to the highest-scoring school district that submits at least three ensembles.

“The Sweepstakes Award was a pretty nice thing to get,” chorus director Dena Tishim said. “I think the kids were really ecstatic about it.”

Each ensemble also took home an individual award, with the chamber orchestra receiving the highest honor, the Adjudicator Award. Similar to a judge’s choice award, this is presented to an instrumental group that scored a 92 or higher during its competition performance and was recommended by the adjudication team at the event.

Because the chamber orchestra earned the competition’s highest score, it also received the Outstanding Orchestra Award.

The orchestra’s success also won it a spot at next year’s Festival of Gold, WorldStrides’ invitation-only competition. Festivals are held at some of the country’s most famous performance venues and offer instruction by some of the finest music educators in the world, according to Ms. Tishim. The orchestra is considering attending the festival in Nashville, Los Angeles or San Francisco.

“I knew they would do very well,” chamber orchestra director Marisa Macchio said. “I did not at all expect we would get as many awards as we received. With so many schools participating and the level of talent [of the competitors], it took me by surprise. I’m definitely very, very, very proud of them.”

Nikita Sipiaguine also took home the Maestro Award, which goes to a student who “displays excellence in their craft,” according to a release.

In the past, Ms. Tishim said, Riverhead attended Music in the Parks competitions. They switched this year, however, due in part to the increased educational component of the WorldStrides Festivals, which are hosted throughout the year in numerous cities across the globe.

During the weekend event, students got to perform under the tutelage of professors from Berklee College of Music and The Boston Conservatory. Ms. Tishim said the ensembles worked with the professors for approximately 15 minutes. Additionally, judges’ comments were given to directors and students almost immediately through the online file-sharing service Dropbox.

“When we usually get comments it’s recorded or written down,” Ms. Tishim said of other competitions. “Here, the professors had the opportunity not just to say what else they wanted but to work with the students and hear them perform with various improvements.

“It was just making them better musicians, basically,” she said.

The judges’ feedback appeared to have paid off, as each ensemble received a plaque with its performance rating on it. Jazz band earned silver honors, while the chorus and chamber orchestra took home gold.

Another benefit of the Boston competition was the educational aspect it provided students while they were not performing. While not competing, the students got to tour the city, visiting popular sites like the historic Faneuil Hall, The Freedom Trail and the Science Museum.

“It was a great experience overall,” Ms. Tishim said. “In general, these competitions help the students to develop their musicianship. It’s why [the teachers] really want to do them, and we just had a great time.”

“Overall, I’m so pleased,” Ms. Macchio added. “It helps them take ownership of the work they’ve done. I felt it really paid off.”

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