Sheldon High School band

Sheldon High School band director Cliff St. Clair leads the band through a performance at graduation Sunday. The band and choir earned Division I overall ratings at the large group festival May 7.

SHELDON—It was a year of uncertainty for the Sheldon High School band and choir programs but both were able to close out the year on a high note.

Last spring the Iowa High School Music Association Large Group Festival was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. This school year, many competitions were delayed or canceled.

One of the biggest festivals was able to happen, though, as the IHSMA Large Group Festival for area schools was held Friday, May 7, at Spirit Lake High School. Bands and choirs perform for three judges at the festival.

The Sheldon High School band and the choir each received Division I ratings from all three judges they performed for, resulting in an overall Division I rating for both programs.

The choir performed “Hush! Somebody’s Callin’ My Name,” an arrangement by Brazeal W. Dennard, “Ubi Caritas” by Dale Sakamoto and “Balia di Sehu,” an arrangement by Rufo Odor.

The students had to sing in masks during their performance but still earned the Division I overall rating.

“The choir performed really well and sounded amazing at both the May concert and large group,” said Sheldon High School choir director Brandon Lenderink. “The students stepped up well to the challenge of singing in masks again, which can really make a vocal performance difficult. But they remembered the details we had been working on and delivered a great performance.

“The judges had very positive things to say about our performance and they definitely noticed a lot of the little things that we had been working on to help take our performance to that next level.”

Sheldon High School band director Cliff St. Clair said it was the musicians best performance on both of the chosen selections.

“We performed Samuel Hazo’s ‘In Flight’ as an opener, which included fast rhythms and 30-second note runs in the woodwinds,” St. Clair said. “Our second selection, John Zdechlik’s ‘Chorale and Shaker Dance’ is a 10-minute performance piece that includes important parts for every section in the band.”

The IHSMA gave programs the choice of either performing live or submitting recordings.

St. Clair and Lenderink wanted to perform live for the judges.

“I was definitely happy we had the opportunity to perform live,” Lenderink said. “I don’t think I had even finished asking kids which option they preferred before they said they wanted to actually go and sing. High school musicians lost so many opportunities due to COVID, so it was nice to give them this one.”

The programs also were able to perform in front of an audience, which St. Clair felt helped the band.

“Performing for three judges can be nerve-racking, but it helped that we had a good number of parents and relatives in the audience,” St. Clair said. “Live performance is so much better than submitting a recording.”

With the event canceled last year, a good number of band and choir members had not performed at the large group festival before.

The band was not deterred by that and even put on a good showing in its warmup.

“I was especially pleased with how the band warmed up. The judges arrived even before we started and listened to us even before we expected them,” St. Clair said. “They heard us rehearse many of our troubled spots before the performance. I was glad they considered our performance worthy of their standards.”

The Division I performances were a culmination of a trying time for both programs, which started with the cancellation of last year’s large group festival.

A year later, the resilience of the students paid off.

“They have really overcome a lot this year. We lost the large group process last year, which to me is where the students seem to make the most progress as musicians,” Lenderink said. “We dealt with social distancing in the auditorium, people being quarantined a lot at the beginning of the year, masks and festivals and competitions being canceled.

“Despite all that, they still gave an incredible performance that I would be proud of in any normal school year. It really speaks to their resilience and their desire to perform.”