Making Music, Memories at SEMSBA

By Jake Faghan, ’23

Staff Writer

For athletes, the goal is taking your team to the championship game. For musicians, the equivalent of the “big game” is SEMSBA. The Southeastern Massachusetts School Bandmasters Association involves about 30 towns and 250 student musicians. Students are divided up to form chorus, jazz, orchestral and concert ensembles. It’s a huge moment for the performing arts, as schools come together to create emotion and life, and to form an even stronger community as musicians and singers. 

For SEMSBA 2023 at Middleborough High School March 17-18, Hanover High School sent a strong contingent: seniors Emily Dillon (trumpet), Cassie Lopes (french horn), Owen Forrand (vocals – bass), Andrew Keegan (vocals – bass) and myself (bassoon); juniors Aidan O’Connor (trombone) and Abby Lamb (vocals-alto); and sophomore Brian Tawa (timpani).

To qualify for SEMSBA, students must first audition. In addition to preparing the audition piece they are given, they practice their scales and sight reading (the act of playing a song for the first few times and interpreting it based on what’s on the paper and what one believes it should sound like), as the judges will ask them to play a small piece they have never seen before. HHS music teachers Mr. Harden and Mr. Wade shepherded students through the process. This year, roughly 400 students from across the region tried out, and as is a common theme, it was so amazing to see so many other musicians. The process itself was enjoyable too. It was more of an evaluation instead of harsh grading. There was only one judge so it was easier to think of it as practicing with yourself, and not in front of an audience. When auditions were over, students were slotted into the different musical groups.

The first day of SEMSBA began at 9 am with groups practicing their respective pieces. The school’s gymnasium, auditorium, and practice room were filled with talent. The concert band, which I was a part of, had about 80 students, which was really nice to see and experience. Despite never playing together before, it was remarkable to watch songs quickly fit together and sound complete. Our first song of the selection, Americans We by Henry Filmore, was sight-read only once and it came out perfectly. It was a promising day of practice, and each section worked hard to provide their voice and pull their weight. After lunch, each group swapped locations and began practicing again. Lunch was provided by the host school, and it was a chance to meet new people from other towns. Once we were back at it, practice continued until 4 pm; it was amazing how much we all improved in that time. The first day was a huge success, and we all looked forward to the concert the next day.

The second day started similarly with the early hours used for practicing before the performances. Other pieces the concert band played included October by Eric Whitacre and Parkour by Samuel Hazo (which, from this, has become one of my favorite arrangements ever). The auditorium was packed for each performance, and every song from each group – chorus, jazz, orchestra, and concert band – went exceptionally well. 

Overall, it was a wonderful experience. It gave us the chance to see a broader world of music, and enabled friendships to form. I was able to meet fellow bassoonists, and saw myself improve from the experience. It was my first time playing at SEMSBA, and it is something I will never forget. I believe every young musician should at least try it, because there is a lot to gain from an opportunity like this. To anyone considering auditioning in the future, I would strongly recommend it, as it is a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to grow. I’m lucky to have experienced it, and I’m grateful every day for being able to make music.

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