High School Wind Ensemble and Jr. High Percussion Ensemble performed at Ohio Music Education Association conference Saturday, February 1, at Duke Energy Center

By Chuck Gibson 

MILFORD, OH – Only seven bands were selected to perform from among 135 student band applicants from all around the state of Ohio. Of the five bands and two percussion ensembles selected to perform at the 2020 OMEA Professional Development Conference, Milford High School’s Winds Ensemble and Milford Junior High Percussion Ensemble were chosen for two of the performance slots.

Milford, OH Bands were chosen to perform at OMEA Development Conference at Duke Energy Center Saturday, Feb. 1 (Provided)

The OMEA Professional Development Conference is held each year to provide clinics and concerts for music educators from across the state. The concert performances feature outstanding student, collegiate, and professional ensembles presented as the best in the state for their respective musical disciplines. The High School Wind Ensemble is composed of 55 students directed by Dr. Timothy Dailey, Director of Bands for Milford.  The 17 member Junior High Percussion Ensemble is directed by Mr. Brandon Dittgen, Assistant Director of Bands for Milford.

Director of Milford Bands, Dr. Timothy Dailey, directed the MHS Wind Ensemble during the OMEA concert in Cincinnati (Provided)

“It was us, Fairfield, Kings, and Lakota East and West were the five bands out of the state that were chosen this year,” said Dailey.

With the conference being held in Cincinnati, Dailey was not surprised that a lot of Cincinnati groups applied. Only seven groups overall were invited to perform. Milford’s percussion ensemble being invited really struck a chord with Dailey.

 “The Junior High percussion ensemble being invited was really cool,” Dailey said. “There were only two percussion ensembles that got invited. It was our junior high percussion and then a collegiate percussion ensemble was invited.”

It is a high honor for any percussion ensemble to receive the invite. According to Dailey, selection is by audition and they have to be very good. Milford bands did it by recording.

Milford Jr. High percussionists performed at the OMEA Conference in Cincinnati (Provided)

“Both groups made recordings last spring that we turned in around June 1st,” Dailey explained.

It was August when they received news they had been chosen. They spent all of the school year trying to prepare for it. It was a very big undertaking for them; especially for the junior high percussion ensemble. It is the very first year of percussion for the seventh grade members of the ensemble.

 “We wait until seventh grade to begin students on percussion,” said Dittgen. “Most of our percussion students went through sixth grade on a woodwind or a brass instrument. When we said yes our seventh grade is going to perform, we weren’t even sure who those kids were going to be.”

Milford Jr High School percussion ensemble with style during OMEA performance Saturdday, Feb. 1 (Provided) 

Performing for OMEA at Duke Energy Center is a much higher profile for the Milford ensembles – most of whom have only played concerts in their school gym. This performance represented a great opportunity to go into downtown Cincinnati and play to an audience near 300 people. It was also an audience which included a lot of band directors and music directors from across the state.

Members of the brass section of the Milford High School Wind Ensemble during OMEA performance (Provided)

“It was a really cool experience for the kids,” Dailey said. “It was a more serious approach to concert band than they’ve ever had before.”

Dailey knows the difference between preparing to play in your own gym, for a grade in a class can lead to a more blasé approach by the students. The Duke venue playing for an audience of professionals (not just parents, grandparents, siblings and schoolmates) is a stage not every group gets to experience.

 “The kids worked very hard for it,” said Dailey. “It was very exciting. I’m very happy with the way they performed.”

Milford Jr High percussion ensemble finished auditions and learned they’d be playing at the State Conference (Provided)

When this year’s seventh grade percussionists were selected, they also learned they would be playing at the state conference. There are nine eighth grade and eight seventh grade student percussionists. These are 12-14 year old kids.

 “This year’s eight grade is just a superstar group of kids,” Dittgen said. “The seventh grade percussionists worked really hard too. We’ve got a lot of talent in that group as well. It was a unique situation so that their second concert this year they got to play at the state convention.”

Preparation did not include an opportunity to rehearse at Duke. Dailey tried to set up something to give the high school wind ensemble practice runs of the concert program. They shared a concert with the University of Kentucky at Lexington in November opening for them and then performing with them on stage. Traveling with the kids to do something different proved to be a good experience in preparing for OMEA.

 “The week before the concert, we did a joint community performance at Milford with the Phillimore Wind Band which is a semi-professional community group I play with,” Dailey said. “It was another chance for us to perform in front of an audience who knowledgeable musicians and performers.”

MHS wind ensemble playing before a packed Duke Convention Center and OMEA audience (Provided)

A lot of work effort went into creating a situation where the kids would bring their “A-Game” to the big stage. There were extra weekend rehearsals. The demands of the music were more difficult than any they’ve played before. Requirements raised the bar for this year and the kids knew it. It paid off.

“Their self-esteem has never been higher,” said Dailey. “They knew we were being ambitious with everything we were going after this year. I think they feel very accomplished right now. The kids in this top group; they love music. They take it really seriously and work hard at it. It’s just been a really positive thing. It is a lot of hard work.

“On the other hand, the junior high kids didn’t really know what they were getting into. Dittgen tried to tell them performing at the state conference is a big deal. They just didn’t have the experience to compare and understand it.

“They worked their butts off for it,” Dittgen said, “and for that age, they didn’t quite understand what we were getting to do. This was going to be a big deal with a big audience.”

Dittgen had to be sure the pieces they would play were achievable for them along with preparing their concert band performances. It took some extra effort. 

There was some important extra time put into after-school rehearsals.

The eighth grade group learned about a piece per month for five months and the seventh grade group learned two pieces in two months. It all added up to 35 minutes in front of a larger audience than ever before for the kids.

“That’s quite a challenge, especially at that age, their middle school concerts don’t last that long,” said Dittgen. “We’re pretty proud of them. It’s funny, it was a big deal, but for them it was just another concert.”

Dittgen said the kids remembered riding in the big elevator, eating afterwards, and going behind the scenes at the conventions center. We came back to Milford and started the new music on Monday. As director of Milford Bands, and teacher, Dr. Tim Dailey sees the “awesome” work and things the kids do in class every day. He appreciates the validation they receive from parents and others in the community when they applaud during concerts at the school. Performing for those with no ties to the program adds another level of exposure and validation for their talent.

“It’s very rewarding to see them show those skills off, and how great they are, for the public,” Dailey said. “The more you can expose your kids to other audience bases and expose other audience bases to your kids is rewarding in a very different way. I’m really proud of them.”

 Click here for more about Milford Schools