Clovis North Wind Ensemble lands once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

Clovis North Wind Ensemble performs one last concert, before heading to The Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference, at Clovis Unified School District Performing Arts Center Dec. 15, 2017. (Leticia Madrigal/Clovis Roundup)

Clovis North High School’s Wind Ensemble made history as the first band in the Central Valley to be invited to perform at The Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference, the world’s largest instrumental music education conference.

The Wind Ensemble performed a final concert on Friday, Dec. 15 at Clovis Unified Performing Arts Center before leaving for the Chicago conference, which starts Dec. 20 and runs through Dec. 23.

With more than 17,000 attendees from all 50 states and more than 30 countries, The Midwest Clinic offers music educators and musicians alike unparalleled networking opportunities. Each year, the event features top ensembles showcasing the newest ideas and talent. From students to professional, performers have the privilege of playing before a supportive and enthusiastic audience interested in promoting and furthering music education.

“It’s an honor to be part of the legacy of what The Midwest Clinic is and to just be kind of in their fabric now, like we’re part of the clinic’s history,” said David Lesser, Director of the Clovis North High School Band. “It’s a real honor to represent California. The kids and me take that real seriously because we get the chance to represent our state at this ginormous event. It’s really special.”

The 56-student Clovis North Wind Ensemble is one of only five high schools bands from around the world to be selected to perform at this year’s clinic, and also one of five California bands to ever be invited since the conference’s initiation in 1946. The clinic received about 170 submissions this year and only selected five, said Lesser.

Though the clinic denied attendance to Clovis North two years ago, the Broncos did not let that stop them. They continued to work hard, reapplied a year ago and received an acceptance letter mid-April.

The band began intensive preparation the first week of summer vacation in 2017. The kids rehearsed all summer long, about two to three times a week and in addition to their marching band schedule, they added two night rehearsals a week, said Lesser.

“It’s been six months of preparation for this, but then besides that it’s just been years of leading up-to,” said Lesser. “Each year, the kids got a little bit better, a little more dedicated. The middle school program we have is really good so when we get ninth graders in, they are a little bit more prepared than some other places. So, it’s really been a long time to make it happen.”

“It’s taken a lot of commitment from the kids to go home and practice regularly and commitment for the parents to help raise the money to take this trip. It’s been a lot of work.”

Jonathan Nunez, a Clovis North senior and clarinet player who has been a member of the Clovis North band for two years, said he is looking forward to see and learn from different clarinet players from around the world at the international music conference.

“I feel honored, personally, because it’s a one-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for a senior in high school,” said Nunez. “I’m pretty excited because we’ve been preparing since the last school year ended. So, I feel pretty prepared.”

After high school, Nunez plans to continue his education in music, whether it’s locally or elsewhere.

“Music anywhere is great to participate in, so I’m excited wherever I get accepted to,” he added.

For the students, many of whom have never been on a plane before, it’s a chance to get out of town and experience Chicago in the winter time, said Lesser.

“I want to be able to give them an experience outside of their community; I want them to get some culture experience,” said Lesser. “We’re going to go see the Chicago Symphony play, we’re going to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, and we’re going to have a rehearsal with a fantastic band from Chicago – we’re going to go to their school and do like an exchange.”

Lesser has an extensive list of experience as a band and assistant director since graduating from Fresno State. He is the first band director at Clovis North and had previously worked as assistant and band director at Clovis West.

He has been attending the international clinic for nearly a decade as an spectator and his goal since starting the music program at Clovis North had been to one day play at The Midwest Clinic.

“The fun part is going to be being able to be the guy who’s on the stage looking out at the audience. Every concert I’ve been to there its always been, ‘Aww man I want to one day be that guy up there,’” he said. “So, now I get the change to do that, which not many people get the chance to do.”

From the very first week of school, Lesser had his class watch videos of previous performers from the clinic to learn about posture, the way they should sit, professionalism and quality of sound.

“To now be in a position to be one of those bands, I tell myself, ‘We’re not one of those bands.’ Then I listen to a recording, and I kind of go, ‘Yeah, OK, we are one of those bands,’” said Lesser. “It’s pretty humbling and it’s a gigantic honor and I’m just really proud of our students for all the work they’ve been doing.”