Music drifted from the Frank “Buck” Shaffer Theatre at the Porterville Memorial Auditorium most of the day Thursday as elementary and middle school bands performed before a panel of judges during Day 1 of the 2014 California Music Educators Association Music Festival.

The Bartlett Middle School Bobcat Band, under the direction of Kathleen Carr, was the first on the stage.

Starting with the march “Eagle Ridge,” the band moved on to “Summit March” before ending with “Be Still My Soul.”

“I think we did pretty good,” said Salma Lopez, the band’s drum major. “We were ready.”

Carr agreed.

“They played really well. I’m proud of the way they performed,” Carr said. “They really stepped up and gave a great performance.”

The Bobcats Band was the first of 16 bands. One by one, each band would take the stage and play three numbers before judges Bill Adam, Benjamin Boone and Gary Willems. A fourth judge, Jeff Biden, served as the sight reading judge.

In the auditorium was Bob Phillips, a retired Pioneer Middle School instructor who was a member of the late Buck Shaffer’s Porterville High School band in 1959.

“I’ve been enjoying this for years — been coming for years,” Phillips said. “It’s fascinating, what these kids can do. For being eighth-grade kids, they are amazing.”

Phillips waited for Pioneer Middle School to play but said he planned to be there all day.

When the curtains opened again, the small Pioneer Middle School Mustang Band sat across the stage. The band opened with the fanfare of “Van Guard March” — a piece written in the great American march tradition with a good mix of brass, woodwinds and percussion.

It was followed with notes that seemed to float through the auditorium as the soft and mellow “Amazing Grace” was played. The number built during the second verse and by the third, obvious cymbals could be heard in its strong and loud finish.

Pioneer’s third number — “Awake the Iron” by Scott Watson — started with a strong percussion group, including the playing of bells and wood blocks creating the sound of the hooves of horses.

The Rockford Elementary Jaguar Band, under the direction of Snider Hendrickson, played “Ironclad” by Sean O’Loughlin and “Shenandoah” before ending with the percussion and haunting notes of “Crusade” by Vince Gassi.

“Wow,” Phillips mouthed as the curtains closed.

Also in the audience were two friends, Randy Fowler and Clyde Amaral.

Fowler, a rural school band director of Pleasant View and Zion Lutheran School, and Jack Amaral’s first band teacher, praised the bands.

“It’s just nice to know the area still gives high priority to music,” Fowler said. “Tulare County has always had strong support.”

Clyde Amaral agreed.

“I am amazed and am impressed by how good these potentially 12 and 13 year old kids can play,” Clyde Amaral said.

Porterville High School Band Director Jim Kusserow, host of the music festival, called the event one of the largest — with 28 bands over two days — ever hosted.

“I’m happy to see a lot of schools brought two bands. Music is growing in our area, and that’s a wonderful thing,” Kusserow said.

The festival, which is not a competition, serves as a gauge for band programs, Kusserow said, and is considered to be one of the most important musical events of the year for band directors.

As he talked, the Strathmore Elementary Bulldog Band, under the direction of George Baker, prepared to take the stage.

They played “Summit March,” and followed with “Beyond the Stars” and ended with “Affirmation” by William Owens.

Day 1 continued with numerous other school bands — Hanford’s Pioneer Middle School, Visalia’s Admiral Akers MS, Springville Union, Orosi’s El Monte MS, Carl Smith MS, Hanford’s Pioneer MS Concert Band, Sunnyside Elementary, Woodlake Valley MS, Sequoia MS, Burton MS, Madera High School and Tulare Western High School.

The festival continues today with more high schools taking the stage. The curtains will open at 8:30 a.m. with Tulare Union on the stage. It will be followed each half hour with bands from Corcoran High, Granite Hills, Central High, Tulare Union Wind Ensemble, and Monache High School at 11:30 a.m.

Slated for afternoon performances are Strathmore High at 1 p.m., Strathmore High School Wind Ensemble at 1:30, Exeter High School at 2 p.m., Woodlake High at 2:30 and Porterville High School at 3 p.m.

The festival is free, open to the public and takes place at the Frank “Buck” Shaffer Theatre inside the Porterville Memorial Auditorium, 465 W. Olive Ave.

Contact Reporter Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.

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