Ready to perform

Composer Shelley Hansen leads the Austin High School Wind Ensemble in a quick run of her piece, "Albanian Dance," at AHS on Jan. 9. The AHS music program will showcase its skills at the annual Minnesota Music Educators Association in February. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Composer Shelley Hansen leads the Austin High School Wind Ensemble in a quick run of her piece, “Albanian Dance,” at AHS on Jan. 9. The AHS music program will showcase its skills at the annual Minnesota Music Educators Association in February. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Austin High School students have the chance to show their greatness on a grand stage this month.

Students in band, orchestra and choir will demonstrate their musical prowess in front of some of the harshest judges of all: other music teachers.

The Austin music program will be one of many to perform at the annual Minnesota Music Educators Association conference on Feb. 13 in Minneapolis.

“It’s a pretty cool, cool thing that we got selected,” said AHS Band director Bradley Mariska. Mariska, Choir director Brian Johnson and Orchestra director Gene Schott came to a decision last May while submitting their work to the MMEA for a performance slot. Only a select group of musicians from schools around the state are asked to perform at the conference, and it had been more than a decade since one school brought several groups to perform.

“We wanted to demonstrate our solidarity,” Mariska said. “We really believe that we look at the high school music department as one unified music program. We said if they don’t accept our recordings, then none of us will go.”

Austin High School Band Director Brad Mariska shows Annie Holtz one of the pieces she'll play in a few weeks at the Minnesota Music Educators Association. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Austin High School Band Director Brad Mariska shows Annie Holtz one of the pieces she’ll play in a few weeks at the Minnesota Music Educators Association. Trey Mewes/trey.mewes@austindailyherald.com

Lucky for AHS, all three programs were approved to perform, somewhat of a rare opportunity for a high school in Minnesota.

Hundreds of high schoolers have spent weeks preparing for the upcoming performance. For the band, that included a practice with composer Shelley Hanson, who created “Albanian Dance,” a fast-paced piece for students. Hanson, the wind ensemble director at Macalester College, visited with students in early January, encouraging them to be bold with the piece and giving students advice on everything from breath counts to music theory.

“They did fabulously,” Hanson said after the practice.

Mariska had wanted to play “Albanian Dance” for some time and was thrilled to bring a composer into the classroom.

“I didn’t get that opportunity when I was in high school,” he told students.

The band will also play “With Heart and Voice,” a piece commissioned by Apple Valley High School for its 25th anniversary in 2001. Mariska heard it when it was dedicated and knew it was a great piece for the high school.

“I said ‘Someday, I’m going to direct that piece with a band,’ he said.

AHS senior Will Bjorndal was excited for the opportunity to play at the MMEA as it was a chance to showcase what Austin students could do.

“It’s quite the honor to represent our city there,” he said.

The three programs will each have 65 minutes to show their skills starting at 3:30 p.m. Friday inside the Minneapolis Convention Center. Mariska hopes many Austinites attend the performance in support of the band, like other AHS activities. Students have practiced with an urgency not normally seen in class, as they know they’re going to perform in front of seasoned musicians and music educators. For Mariska, Johnson, Schott and other AHS musicians, the opportunity is well worth the practice.

“This is basically as big as it gets in the world of music here in Minnesota,” Mariska said.

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