Rockford band students tooting their own horns, and well

Greta Smith (Submitted photo)
Greta Smith (Submitted photo)

Is there something in the water at the Rockford Area School District? Maybe something in the air (aside from some impressive notes coming out of the band rooms at both the middle and high schools)? Whatever it is, it’s music to Rockford Band Director Jerald Ferdig, who has two students going on to play in the competitive Minnesota Band Directors Association All-State Honor Band.

Penina Boros (Sun staff photo by Linda Herkenhoff)
Penina Boros (Sun staff photo by Linda Herkenhoff)

Hundreds of students across the state compete each year for the few coveted chairs by submitting recorded audition pieces that include scales and challenging etudes. Once chosen, they get a full day of practice with the rest of the all-state band members and perform in concert.

There are some similarities between the successful nominees, but each girl has her own connection to music and thoughts as to what role it will play in her future.

Both ninth-grader Greta Smith and eighth-grader Penina Boros play the clarinet and have since elementary school (Smith beginning in fourth grade and Boros in third). They know each other — Penina actually calls Greta her “ninth grade best-ie” — are supportive of each other, and both credit Ferdig for helping them hone their skills to a level that has resulted in statewide recognition and the opportunity of a music student’s burgeoning career.

Smith said the etude (a short, difficult instrumental composition designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular musical skill) she had to record was a challenge for her. There were notes so high she’d never attempted to reach them before and wasn’t completely sure she could.

But, she wasn’t sure she couldn’t.

Even though she set down her clarinet on more than one occasion, frustrated by the difficulty during practice, eventually, what seemed nearly impossible was obtainable. Even, she said, if her audition tape hadn’t garnered her a seat in the band, she had surpassed her previous playing ability, and that was a proud accomplishment.

Smith, who plays hand bells at her church, credits her faith above all for whatever talent she possesses and for the tenacity that’s helped her stay focused. She’s a self-proclaimed “people person” who loves music and the arts. Though she’s not sure what role music will play in her future, she’s sure there will be one and speculates that she’ll end up at an “artsy” college in the near future.

Smith noted that, in the piece she’ll be playing in concert, there are notes even higher that the ones she conquered for her audition tape.

Boros, on the other hand, is no stranger to the big time. She’s made the all-state band for her age division twice before, scoring third seat clarinet two years ago. This time, though, she going in “pipes a blazing.” The woodwind protege and young talent has earned first chair status this time around. Meaning, of course, that of all the hopefuls in her age category, she’s emerged “top dog” in this competition.

Boros also plays the oboe and, like Smith, she dabbles in the arts. She recently landed a lead role in the middle school spring musical “Phantom Tollbooth.” She’ll play Princess Reason, an experience she’s excited about getting immersed in.

Like Smith, she’s not sure how music will play out in her life after graduating from Rockford (she moves up to high school this fall), but her obvious appreciation of it suggests that she won’t be putting down her clarinet for too long wherever she ends up. Besides the arts, she loves horses. She rides regularly and competes.

She, like Smith, offered nothing but praise for her band director and said she feels he’s played a major role in her growth and success as a musician.

Both girls have made names for themselves this year by having been recognized by not only the state’s most prestigious youth ensemble, but by their peers, teachers and families. The Rockford Area School Board recently made note of their accomplishments, as well as that of the district’s band program, at a board meeting.

On Sunday, April 7, beginning at 2 p.m. at Edina High School, the honor bands will perform, with Boros playing in the sixth- to eighth-grade band, and Smith in the ninth- and 10th-grade band.

For those who can’t wait that long, the public can experience a “first of its kind” band and choir concert on Thursday, March 27, at 7 p.m. at Rockford High School.