by Alyssa Pena | staff writer

In the middle of a challenging lesson instructed by the orchestra student teacher, a commotion suddenly rose from the director’s office.

“Mrs. George freaked out in her office, then she came outside and yelled at us,” senior Yash Sahota said. “We thought someone had committed a murder.”

Orchestra director Karen George stormed out of her office in a rage, pacing back and forth in front of her terrified varsity orchestra class, saying she was “speechless” and repeatedly asking, “What does this mean for orchestra?” After abruptly leaving the stunned classroom, she returned moments later with principal John Mehlbrech in tow to finally reveal that her anger was all an act.

I punked them,” George said. “I wanted a good reaction from the students. I hadn’t really talked [the Midwest Clinic] up, and I hadn’t gone through the whole explaining of what this was and how big of a deal this was.”

The Midwest Clinic, a highly selective event held every year in Chicago, Illinois in the month of December, welcomes groups from all across the country and the globe to meet and discuss new teaching styles, to preview up and coming music for middle school, high school, and adult level orchestras, and attend helpful seminars on how to improve music quality.

“Midwest is world renown, and groups from all over the world will send their recordings in for judges on the board to listen to, then they select those groups,” George  said. “And there’s groups all the way from jazz ensembles to full orchestra, student orchestras, band, and smaller community groups.”

Because of it’s world famous status among orchestra ensembles, the Midwest clinic requires that the groups that aspire to submit recordings do so in mid-March, something that was unheard of to George.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for quite some time. One of the things that made me hesitate was, the due date; the turnaround time from our UIL to that is very, very quick,” George said “It was so early, I just missed the date. I also had to make sure that, if we were ever selected, it was a year when I could leave.  And so this year I was like, ‘you know what, let’s just try this.’”

After earning sweepstakes in UIL this year, George immediately sent in the recordings of her top orchestra and a video of herself conducting with hopes of at least being considered for Midwest. She would’ve never have guessed that her first time submitting that would they be chosen.

“I found out by email and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!’ I had our student teacher, Ms. Mayra Pena read it for me to make sure I wasn’t misreading it,” George said. “This was the first time I ever submitted, and back when I was recording my students to send it, they asked ‘why are you recording this?’ and when I told them it was for Midwest, I just kind of blew it off because I didn’t want to talk it up too much. I didn’t know what to expect for this.”

Now that they have been selected, the Forza orchestra will travel to Chicago between December 14-17 to perform for conductors, teachers, and other musicians. Although this year’s orchestra achieved this spectacular spot in Midwest, the orchestra next year will be able to attend, meaning that seniors will have to miss out.

“Unfortunately the seniors from this year will not be attending. However I have looked into how to  honor the seniors who participated. One of the directors that I have been in contact with said that she included a picture of them in the [Midwest] program. So I will definitely do something like that,” George said.

Despite not being able to attend as an orchestra member, graduating seniors like Sahota plan on watching their classmates perform since they remember how huge of an accomplishment being accepted to Midwest is from the Tejeda Middle School Orchestra traveling to Chicago their sixth grade year.

“I was actually in the Philharmonic orchestra at the time, and it was my sixth grade year. I remember Mrs. Williams and the orchestra leaving for Midwest, and we made posters for them saying ‘good luck’ and all that,” Sahota said. “It was pretty interesting, and I always thought that, ‘hey maybe that will be an orchestra that I’m in that will get to go to Midwest.’ It’s sort of like that now. I’m still happy since I was part of that group when we got invited, but that’s why I still wanna show up and watch the performance next year.”

The Midwest Clinic selects three groups to perform out of the many categories they supply and allows those groups to gain recognition from thousands of music educators and performers.

“I think that anything that people know about, it’s good to get our name out there, and let people know who we are. We are really a great group,” George said. “They are really talented, really dedicated students and I think it’s important that everyone see that, and so we want to shine the light on our orchestra whenever we can. And I think it’s a good way to get our name out there.”

This opportunity might not have been possible without the dedication and commitment exhibited by the orchestra students throughout the years, according to George.

“This orchestra has developed and matured so much in the eight years since the school was opened. There’s a lot more depth,” George said. “I didn’t have that high of expectations because of the level of music that we submitted because we have played harder, but apparently it really was the quality of [the recording] that got us accepted to Midwest, and I cannot be more proud of my students.”

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About The Author

Alyssa Pena is a senior at Johnson High School and a first time writer for MyJagNews. Alyssa has been in orchestra for 4 years and is currently the student president of the organization. #Bosstakovich She is also involved in Model United Nations where she is the Sargent at Arms, and multiple honor societies. In her scarce amount of free time, Alyssa spends a majority of her time on YouTube watching videos of nerds playing video games for a living and ridiculous pop culture memes. She also enjoys reading, writing, and fangirling over celebrities who don't know she exists. She has 6 cats, most named after fictional characters, and one dog named after a Beatles song. She's extremely excited to be writing for MyJagNews, and hopes her fellow writers are prepared for her obsessions with Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Haywood #imstillintheair, as well as the revolutionary musical "Hamilton".

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