Wando High School's marching band practices on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, for the Lowcountry Invitational. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Local high school bands have had a good showing this fall.

The Wando High School Marching Band on Nov. 2 was named champion of the 2019 South Carolina 5A State Marching Band Competition. This is the 12th time since 2005 the band placed on top statewide.

Two weeks earlier, the marching band — one of 22 participating in the Bands of America Regionals in Orlando, Fla. — earned a third place.

The marchers aren’t the only Wando musicians to find glory this season. The school’s large Symphonic Band was selected to perform at the Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference, the biggest instrumental music education conference in the world. It’s held each December in Chicago and draws more than 17,000 participants from across the U.S. and from 30 other countries.

The Wando Symphonic Band will have company from the Lowcountry. The all-strings Chamber Orchestra from Charleston County School of the Arts, under the direction of Christopher Selby, also has been invited to perform at the conference.

It’s not easy to gain access to the conference stage, according to Midwest Clinic organizers.

“Only the top groups in the country — and the world, actually — submit (audition) tapes, because they know we only accept the best groups,” said Frank Lestina, interim director of programming.

Chris Selby and the SOA Symphony Orchestra

Chris Selby demonstrates a technique to violin players with the School of the Arts Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 26, 2016. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

Let’s put this in some perspective: There are more than 21,000 public high schools in the U.S., more than 13,000 public middle schools, and more than 3,000 secondary private schools. Of course, not all of them have robust music programs, and fewer still have bands and orchestras that perform at high levels. Another barrier is cost. Music groups must pay their way to the conference. Schools with small music budgets that can’t easily solicit funds from parents and other boosters, don’t tend to apply, even if their ensembles are populated by talented musicians.

Nevertheless, the competition is fierce.

This year, four middle school bands and five high school bands have been selected to perform at the conference, along with four string orchestras and three full orchestras. Additionally, two groups from Japan, one from Taiwan and one from Spain will perform.

Around 3,000 music educators will be listening intently.


Wando High School's band director Bobby Lambert records practice on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, at Wando High School in Mount Pleasant. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

To qualify, these ensembles had to submit performance tapes, past programs, lists of personnel and more, in effect, demonstrating consistent quality over time, according to Lestina.

The Wando band will be joined by bands from three Texas cities — San Antonio, Houston and Richardson — and from Louisville, Ky. The SOA string orchestra will be joined by string orchestras from Las Vegas; San Jose, Calif.; and San Antonio, Texas. Full orchestras performing at the Midwest Clinic are coming from Carmel, Ind.; Austin, Texas; and Louisville, Ky.

Each group will perform for 45 minutes to an hour.

“The clinic was founded on a mission of promoting new music,” Lestina said. “So a certain percentage of their program must be music published in the last year. That’s the draw for directors, too, who come here looking for the newest music written for orchestra or band or jazz band.”

The conference is set for Dec. 18-21.


Members of Wando High School's drum line warm up before band practice on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, in Mount Pleasant. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Bobby Lambert, Wando’s director of bands, said the Midwest Clinic is the “pre-eminent organization of the band and orchestra director world,” where thousands converge to preview what’s next in music education, performance and composition.

Lambert was teaching in Chicago when, in 2007, he was first introduced to the Wando band, which performed at the conference. He said it’s a great honor to be among the groups on stage there, but the lead-up to the event is just as important.

This year at Wando, college band directors form Michigan State and University of South Carolina came to work with the students, he said. Two composers visited the band room, and two new pieces were written especially for this upcoming concert.

“There are so many musical experiences alongside the performance that are so thrilling for students,” Lambert said.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Get the best of The Post and Courier, handpicked and delivered to your inbox every morning.

Contact Adam Parker at aparker@postandcourier.com or 843-937-5902.