HB students make music at Southern NH band festival

The Hollis Brookline Concert Band is off to another impressive start this year. A select number of students were invited to partake in the prestigious Southern New Hampshire Concert Band Festival on Sunday, Sept. 25.

Directed by Diane Francoeur, a band director at Manchester High School West, members of the Hollis Brookline band played alongside the top band students from Campbell High School, Souhegan High School and Milford High School.

These young musicians produced renditions of five pieces, including "Sedona" by Steven Reineke and "All Glory Told," composed by James Swearingen.

HB has paticipated in the fall festival for seven years. Each September, the best of the band is represented in a group of close to 100 high school students playing several sections of instruments.

If they’re selected to play in this specific festival, these students are given folders of sheet music and are expected to practice outside of class. The week before the performance, a rehearsal is held during the common free period in order to work out some of the kinks.

Maegan Castriotta, a senior flutist, has taken part in the festival since her sophomore year.

"I really love that this school gives us so many opportunities to play and showcase the department’s talent," she said. "I think it definitely makes me a better musician."

This is the first year that a high school director orchestrated the school bands.

"We usually have college professors conduct this festival, but this year we decided to switch it up," said Dave Umstead, band director at Hollis Brookline. "One of the reasons we did that this year is because she is a female conductor. We typically have male professors as our guest conductors.

"There are females in the band and so many female band directors out there, so I think it is good for the band to have this experience," he said. "She is a very talented director, and I wanted my students to have the chance to learn from her."

Francoeur is an award-winning director of 24 years and has directed many large groups around the area. In 2010, she was awarded the "Teacher of the Year Award" at Manchester West. Five years later, she also received the honor of the "Outstanding Band Director Award" by the New Hampshire Music Directors Association.

"I was excited to learn from (Francoeur)," said senior Skye Jacobs. "I have heard many great things about her and always look forward to working with different conductors."

Arriving at 8:45 a.m., the students practiced the pieces with Francoeur all day, as this was their first time coming together as an ensemble. Students and Francoeur alike were driven by the desire to perfect their music.

The festival began at 5 p.m. in the HB auditorium. Attendance was encouraged, as admission was free for all. With an introduction from Umstead, Francoeur was presented and proceeded to prepare for the first piece.

Throughout the night, there were many opportunities for soloists, including HB’s own Jacobs. Hard work and determination were evident, as many attendees remarked that this high school band sounded much like a collegiate-level orchestra.

"We have such strong talent this year," Umstead said. "There was no doubt in my mind that these students would put on a fantastic show."

Caroline Kroeger is a senior at Hollis Brookline High School.