By Jason Wesseldyk
For the second straight year, an Otsego High School student has been selected to the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association All-State Band.
Senior Sophie Maxwell, a trombonist, will perform with the elite band at 10:15 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids.
Madison Kroes earned a spot in the All-State Band last year.
“When I first found out I’d been accepted (into the All-State Band), I was overwhelmed with excitement and happiness,” Maxwell said. “I never thought I would have made it that far.”
Approximately 2,500 students auditioned for the band, with 400 being selected as part of five ensembles.
“The way All-State is auditioned is very exclusive,” Otsego High School band director Mitch Piersma said. “It has nothing to do with where you are from or how old you are. All auditions are recorded, put in a file and judged by one person per instrument. They are only given a student number and have no idea what the students look like.
“It involves the entire state of Michigan’s instrumental music programs, so it is extremely difficult to get in, especially when there are many large school districts who send students. There are also students that try out that have access to lessons from people in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. So, when a student from a school the size of ours makes it, it is extremely special.”
Maxwell began her band career in sixth grade … and it was a bit of a rocky start.
“For our first chair test, I was 23rd out of 26 trombones in our band class,” Maxwell said.
But those results only served to fuel Maxwell’s desire for improvement.
“I was very disappointed with the results of that first chair test, so I took the initiative to practice more and I moved up to first chair after that.”
Piersma has enjoyed watching—and hearing—Maxwell’s growth as a musician during the past seven years.
“Sophie has always been a motivated student and has done exceptionally well,” Piersma said. “One thing that really impresses me about her is that she has the leadership skills to go along with performing. She isn’t afraid to take the reins with anything and wants to inspire others to do the same. She performs well under pressure, as she had important solos in our marching band show this year and nailed them every time.”
Maxwell credits Piersma and OHS assistant band director Jessica Grove with helping mold her into trombonist she is today.
“They have both always made band such a fun class,” Maxwell said of Piersma and Grove. “I always have looked forward to band class at school. They would give me music that challenged me and I would always love figuring out how to play it which lead me to love band.”
Maxwell’s best friend Gabby Stout and private-lessons teacher Mike Shannon also inspired her.
“Gabi is an excellent trombonist and is the person I look up to the most,” Maxwell said. “She had such a successful high school trombone career and has many great achievements that have inspired me to become better.
“And I’ve been playing with Mr. Shannon for almost six years and he’s always given me new challenges and new things to work on.”
Music for the All-State performance will be mailed to participants, who are then expected practice in preparation for the big day.
Those in the band are scheduled to arrive in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Jan. 19, and will rehearse as s group on Friday, Jan. 20.
“I’m very excited for the performance,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell recommends auditioning for the All-State Band to the younger members of the OHS band.
“I think more young musicians need to go for things like this,” she said. “Stepping out of your comfort zone and auditioning is such a big deal and it helps musicians grow tremendously. Whether you make it or not, it will make you a better player.”
Although she hasn’t decided on a college as of yet, Maxwell plans to follow her passion for music after this year. She plans on majoring in secondary music education and aspires to be a band director.
“I also hope to continue to play in my school’s marching band and an orchestra,” she said.