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Faubion Honors Orchestra to Perform at Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago

Shane Mauldin|
Wednesday, December 20, 2023
The Faubion Middle School Honors Orchestra rehearses in the Faubion auditorium as they prepare for their performance at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference to be held Dec. 20–22, 2023, in Chicago. They are one of only two middle school orchestras invited to perform.

The Faubion Middle School Honors Orchestra rehearses in the Faubion auditorium as they prepare for their performance at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference to be held Dec. 20–22, 2023, in Chicago. They are one of only two middle school orchestras invited to perform.

McKinney, Texas – Kari Zamora’s hands seem to dance in the air as they dart about before her, the conductor’s baton balanced lightly between her fingers, punctuating the tempo and intensity of the music.

She swings toward one side of the Faubion Middle School Honors Orchestra, the cellos and bass players, and then a moment later sweeps back toward the violins and violas on the other side as the music moves along. She communicates with her hands and eyes, her head bobbing with the tempo, her hair at times whipping about her face.

Many of the 7th and 8th grade musicians before her have hardly begun their musical journey, in fact were playing pieces at the level of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star a year and a half ago. Now, the music they create dances across the Faubion auditorium rehearsal stage with sophistication, elegance and power.

photo of female violin player

Zamora hears every nuance, every measure they play well and the ones that need more attention. She signals for them to stop and directs them to specific measures that need work.

Beyond the music, every detail of the upcoming performance is planned out and practiced until it’s right. They work on standing and sitting as Zamora steps onto the stage. They raise their instruments in near-perfect unison, then do it again. It’s the same standard of excellence that is present every time they prepare, but this performance, in particular, is special.

The Faubion Honors Orchestra is one of only two middle school orchestras to receive the prestigious invitation to perform at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference to be held Dec. 20–22, 2023, in Chicago. The annual event boasts more than 18,000 attendees from all 50 states and 40 countries.

photo of male violin player rehearsing

Dozens upon dozens of groups from across the country and around the world submit recordings each year hoping to be chosen to perform.

Since receiving the invitation, the Faubion orchestra has been hard at work perfecting nine pieces that range from 2 minutes to just over 6 minutes in length. Generally, compositions for school orchestras are graded for difficulty on a five point scale, with five representing the most challenging. The pieces that will make up Faubion’s Midwest performance are mostly Grade 3 and Grade 4 pieces with only two designated as Grade 2. It will be a challenging set.

“This is probably one of the hardest working groups that I’ve had,” says Zamora. “They really want to do well. There’s no sense of negativity. They handle criticism well. We started them at the beginning of the year realizing that it’s a growth mindset.”

female cello player

Only two players remain from the Faubion group whose recordings resulted in the Midwest invite. The rest have moved on to high school; eleven of the 29 current players were beginners last year, picking up the instrument for the first time in beginner band. Now, they’ve played their way into the school’s top orchestra. They understand the weight of the task in front of them, and they embrace it.

“For them to take such a giant step forward…it’s been a huge task for them, but we’ve just set our expectations high and the kids always come through,” said Zamora.

Evan Luna, a 7th grader, has been playing viola longer than some of the others who are new to Honors this year, but not by much. “I’ve been playing two and half years,” he says. “I never would have thought that I would be going to an international concert.”

Zamora leaning forward directing

Seventh grader Olivia Sullivan moved up to the Honors Orchestra this year and immediately realized the challenge that lay before them as she began looking at the music over the summer. “It’s a lot of music, and it’s a lot of pressure,” she says. “There are nine pieces, and we got them over the summer. Over the summer it’s hard to practice, but I think once you nail it down and you play with a big group, it brings joy to see what you’ve done.”

Cellist Brooke Aguillard, an 8th grader, is the veteran of the group, one of only two who remain from last year. She has served as mentor to newer members of the cello section. She has seen their progress over the past months first hand and is straightforward about how they’ve been doing and where they are now. During moments when she has felt like they were not meeting expectations, she has tried to help move them forward, and she feels positive about how they’re doing. “I still think we’re there,” she says. “I think we’re good.”

female violin player

The road to Chicago hasn’t been easy. Beyond the performance itself, it has taken a great deal of work and contributions from supporters to raise the money for the trip. But, ultimately it’s about the students, about helping them to progress and grow as musicians and as people.

“Every time something gets hard,” Zamora says, thinking about the process, “it’s like, ‘Let’s reflect—because a year ago, you were playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and you only knew notes on two…maybe three of your four strings.’ So, for them to come so far in a year, it really is astounding what students are able to do.”

While the rest of MISD will be wrapping up the fall semester in McKinney, the 7th and 8th graders of the Faubion Honors Orchestra will be completing the months-long journey to Chicago and the Midwest Clinic.

As they take their places in room W190 at 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 20, they’ll play together, many miles away from home—and light years beyond where they started.

More Photos

male violin player

view over the shoulder of violin player with music sheet in background

female violin player standing and playing

female and male violin players

male cello player

Jeff Harvick directing orchestra

female violin player

Brandon Berens conducting

Special thanks to guest conductors Jeff Harvick, McKinney High School orchestra director; Dr. Deborah Perkins, clinician, adjudicator and cello instructor; and performer and educator Dr. Martha Walvoord.

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