The Amador Valley High School Wind Ensemble will perform in a farewell concert at 7 p.m. tonight before heading off to Chicago, where members will play at one of the most prestigious venues in the country.
The concert will be held at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. Tickets are $12.
The ensemble will then fly to Chicago to perform Dec. 19 at the 67th Annual Midwest Clinic, one of just four bands from across the country chosen to perform and the first from California in 11 years.
Band Director Jon Grantham described the Midwest Clinic as "the Olympics or Super Bowl of events for a high school band program."
"The best of the best are chosen, and we are honored to be among that caliber of ensembles from across the country," Grantham said.
Getting the chance to play at the Midwest Clinic required dedication from the young musicians, according to Brandon Park, 16, who plays upright bass in the ensemble. He said it took long hours just to meet the requirements of the audition.
"We had to spend about 10 or 12 hours," Park said. "We not only had to make a video recording of the songs we auditioned within one show without interruptions, we also had to make audio recordings of ourselves."
The primary piece of the audition is Lincolnshire Posy, an adaption of English folk songs composed in 1937 by Percy Grainger.
"It's the main song of our audition," he explained. "It takes up 13 minutes of the 15 minutes of our recording. It was so long, and shooting the video recording was really tough. Since the song was 13 minutes long, if we made any movement, or someone messed up their solo or dropped a piece of paper, we had to cut and do the whole 13-minute piece again."
That's in addition to daily hour-long practices by the ensemble as a whole and the individual practice sessions for each player.
For Park, it was worth the effort. Not only is the Midwest Clinic a renowned venue in the country for high school bands, it's also a chance to play in front of Julie Giroux, the composer of "Before the Sun," a piece that was commissioned specifically for the Amador Valley ensemble.
"After we play these songs, the composer will stand up and take a little bow," Park said. "The composers are actively there in the audience to listen and find out how their production came out through this band."
In addition, he said, the ensemble will perform compositions that range in difficulty.
"We're playing about 10 songs that we have to perform, starting from the lowest difficulty of music to the highest level," Park said, explaining that the purpose is to perform music that can be done by bands of different abilities and grade levels.
"A lot of music teachers from elementary and middle schools come to this," he said. "It's not just showing of music, it's spreading the music."
As always, getting the 57 students in the ensemble to Chicago requires a fundraising effort.
Most of the trip costs will be paid by the families of the musicians. But there are other costs, according to Sally Baker, vice president of fundraising for Amador Friends of Music.
"This is an honor for all of Pleasanton, and we are asking the community, alumni and all friends in music to make a donation in support of these Pleasanton music emissaries," Baker said.
AFM has a goal of raising $15,000 for instructor expenses, printed programs and other travel expenses.
Donations may be made online at www.AmadorMusic.org, and checks may be sent to Amador Friends of Music/Midwest Clinic, P.O. Box 602, Pleasanton, CA 94566.
Park said he and his band-mates are excited, and a little nervous.
"Just playing music in front of a lot of people, in front of 11,000 music teachers and critics, it's really exciting, but scary, too," he said. "There are a lot of things that go in the process. We have to set up quickly. We have to apparently take a picture and do a sound check and do eight different tasks in about 40 minutes to an hour."
"Another scary part is trying not to move or making too much extraneous noise (such as dropping paper), keeping still and not making noise. That's something that's really hard not to do," he added.
Of course, there's the added attraction of being in Chicago with the friends that were created by playing together for so long.
"We already have friendships that are established from marching bands," Park said. "We're definitely going to visit around Chicago first, even if it's really cold."
One stop that's on Park's list: Trying Chicago-style deep dish pizza.