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The Hendersonville High School symphonic band has played at Carnegie Hall. It has played in the renowned symphony halls of Boston and Chicago. It has traveled to the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and California, and it has usually won the top prize.
But it has missed the brass ring each time it has played at the Dixie Classic at Atlanta Symphony Hall. Until this year. The symphonic band known as one of the best public high school bands anywhere finally won at Atlanta. On April 12, the HHS musicians, under the direction of Fran Shelton, finished first among 16 bands, scoring a 97 rating playing masterworks pieces. The Bearcat band beat the competition from Pennsylvania, Indiana, Virginia, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
"I think it was just sheer excitement in a group of children that wanted it more than anything else," Shelton said. "They had so much confidence and they were so excited about playing."
Unlike trips in the past, the band played the day they arrived, a Friday, instead of touring attractions in the city, rehearsing and getting jittery.
"We had a rehearsal here and they slept in their own bed the night before and they just went down there and played," she said. "I think it helped a lot (to perform the day they arrived). I think they were very focused and ready."
Judges in the National Adjudicators Invitational event also recognized the Hendersonville band's brass and percussion sections for top awards. Its pieces were "The Crosley March," by Fillmore/Foster, and "Give Us This Day," by Maslanka.
It's an achievement for the director of bands to have whipped a rebuilt ensemble into tiptop shape. The HHS band lost 32 seniors to graduation a year ago.
"Over half the symphonic band is new to this band," either as freshmen or musicians promoted from the concert band, Shelton said. "It's pretty amazing that they were able to play this masterworks piece so well." This year's band has just 22 seniors.
Next up: Carnegie Hall in March of 2014. A high school music festival invited HHS back 10 years after it last performed on the famous concert stage.
"It's kind of a novelty having a band like this at a little school," Shelton said.