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The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Student-Run Newspaper of Townsend Harris High School at Queens College

The Classic

The Music Department wins gold with distinction at NYSSMA Majors Competition

Mr.+Heathwood+conducting+the+THHS+Band.
Grace Kwan
Mr. Heathwood conducting the THHS Band.
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Earlier this month, the annual NYSSMA Majors competition was held at Townsend Harris High School and LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College. Bands from across the state came to play at various levels, ranging from Levels 1 to 6, with Level 6 being the most difficult. NYSSMA Majors is a competition where school-directed ensembles compete with one another to show off their intense musicality. This year, the Music Department competed in Level 4 with three sections: Jazz Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, and Wind Ensemble. In an incredible feat, both Jazz Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra were rated gold with distinction, while Wind Ensemble was rated gold.

Conducted by music teacher Kevin Heathwood, Jazz Ensemble and Wind Ensemble have had long competing histories at NYSSMA Majors with awards that reflect the skill of each band. Symphony Orchestra, a new ensemble that was created this year and led by Mr. Heathwood and music teacher Chris Lee, rocked the stage in NYSSMA Majors and came out with top ratings, showing the up-and-coming orchestra’s monumental performance. 

Senior Regina Abes who plays tenor sax and serves as the clarinet section leader said, “This is the first year that Symphony Orchestra performed at NYSSMA, so getting gold with distinction was extremely special for us.”

Junior Julia Waters, one of the many lead singers for Jazz Ensemble, noted her surprise with the band’s ratings this year: “I was very happy when we got our ratings. Last year, we [won] gold at NYSSMA, so I was surprised to see that we managed to get gold with distinction this year,” she said.

Many band members thanked Mr. Heathwood and Mr. Lee for the successful results of NYSSMA. Julia said, “I know Mr. Heathwood is very proud of us, and [Jazz Ensemble] is very thankful that he worked so hard to get us where we are today.” Similarly, Junior Ian You, who played the viola for both Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Strings, said, “[Mr. Heathwood and Mr. Lee’s] persistence and unyielding reminders made me feel better prepared for NYSSMA.” He described the two as being particular about parts of each piece, which played a major role in the ensembles and orchestras being able to receive their coveted rating on performance day. Regina added to this, noting that Mr. Heathwood’s “constant determination and efforts to better the band program are what have allowed [them] to grow into the musicians that [they] are today.”

Not only did NYSSMA serve as a great opportunity for the THHS Music Program to showcase the skills of some of the best student musicians in the school, but it also allowed students to explore music outside of the classroom. Alongside NYSSMA Majors, many students at THHS also participated in NYSSMA Solos, a separate competition where individual students present their musical talent by playing an excerpt of a chosen solo, various scales, and a sight reading passage. 

Junior Alexa Herrera, who plays bass clarinet, commented on her experiences with her solo: “My adjudicator (someone who serves as a judge in the performance) was very polite and I enjoyed sharing the piece I prepared with them. They encouraged me by giving me some flexibility, such as letting me skip repeats (sections of music expected to be repeated in a single composition), which eased my nerves a lot, especially considering how often they appeared in the piece,” she said. She also encourages other student musicians to do NYSSMA Solos due to the  overwhelmingly positive feedback and experience that she gained from it.

Lastly, with many seniors preparing to give their last goodbyes at Townsend Harris, many chose music as a way to reflect on the last few years. 

Regina said, “Along with the pride of receiving gold with distinction came the bittersweet feeling of realizing that this would be my last time playing NYSSMA. I know all the seniors felt pretty emotional that day. However, those moments are what made all of our hard work throughout the year feel completely worth it.”

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Grace Kwan
Grace Kwan, Photography Staff Member
Grace is a freshman at Townsend Harris High School and a staff photographer for The Classic.
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