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Orchestra nets national honor

Madison Mathews • Feb 21, 2012 at 11:21 PM

The performance might be a month away, but the musicians of the Topper Orchestra at Science Hill High School are busy readying their bows and strings as they prepare to compete in one of the most prestigious high school orchestra competitions in the country.

Out of more than 100 high school orchestras from across North America, only 10 were selected to participate in the American String Teachers Association’s National Orchestra Festival, which will be held in Atlanta March 21-24.

The Topper Orchestra was one of those 10 schools, and for seniors Nicole Neilson and Dylan Eaton, getting to close out their senior year by heading to the highly competitive competition next month is the ultimate payoff.

“It’s a huge honor in getting to go out with the big bang, I guess, to be at the ASTA competition,” violinist Neilson said.

Eaton agreed, adding this is important since he plans to pursue a career in music once he graduates in May.

“In the music business, it’s good to have your name out there and if I’m a part of this winning group in Atlanta this year, then I think that’ll help in the future with my career,” he said.

The orchestra typically competes each year but this is the first time the group has ever been invited to the ASTA competition.

The competition promotes orchestral performance by middle school and high school students through providing a performance opportunity in a national setting with constructive evaluation by nationally recognized experts in the field.

Given the elite nature of the competition, Eaton said it’s the kind of festival high school musicians strive to be a part of. With the national publicity, he said it’s the kind of thing that could build interest in high school music programs and possibly bring more funding into their program.

“I think it’s just better — one more thing we can bring back to Science Hill, you know, it’s just not all band here,” he said.

Despite the competitiveness of the festival, Neilson said it’s just honor to be able to go as a representative of East Tennessee.

“It’s a big responsibility that Science Hill holds up pretty well. Science Hill’s an awesome school. We have a great orchestra program ... and we can really represent Science Hill in a good way,” she said.

As a participant in the competition, the Topper Orchestra is required to prepare 30 minutes of music that touch on a variety of genres and musical eras.

Susan Lambert, orchestra teacher with Johnson City Schools, said the Topper Orchestra will play selections from the Renaissance period, a classical baroque piece, an Appalachian fiddle tune, an opera overture and a piece from the 20th century.

The orchestra has been practicing since school started in August, and Lambert said the hard work is worth it in order to be included in the competition.

“It’s exciting. It’s overwhelming. It’s an honor. It’s an honor that East Tennessee would have an orchestra at the caliber of these students that have been selected to go,” she said.

For more information on the competition, visit www.astaweb.com.

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