After weeks of daily rehearsals and multiple clinics from the start of the concert season to the end of January, Honors Wind Ensemble members share what the experience was like preparing and participating in the Illinois Music Education Conference (IMEC), which features more than 150 clinics and concerts in a span of three days. It’s been held for 40 years, and this year it was held at the end of January in Peoria.
IMEC is an annual convention hosted by the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) for music teachers, but student bands can audition for the opportunity to perform, and some student musicians are selected for an all-state band.
Honors Wind Ensemble Band Director Jerry Shelato explained what the process is like in order for a band to be considered for participation at the convention.
“Every year, in the spring, they have a deadline that you can send in your application recordings by a certain date to be considered to perform the next year, so there are lots of those performances that take place during the conference,” Shelato said.
Shelato also noted that a band is only “eligible to be chosen for IMEC once every five years, so [the MHS] wind ensemble won’t be eligible [again] until 2027.”
The last time the Honors Wind Ensemble attended IMEC was in 2010 when neither Shelato nor Sturgeon were MHS band directors.
The wind ensemble originally submitted its recording in the spring of 2020, so the band was supposed to attend the convention in January of 2021, but because of the many cancellations at the time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the band was able to attend the IMEC this year.
Yet, with a full marching band season at the start of this year, Shelato had to find ways to practice the music with the wind ensemble even then. Therefore, he scheduled four evening rehearsals at the time.
“These rehearsals, prior to the beginning of concert band season, were focused on getting that literature read and getting preliminary work done on it,” Shelato said.
In addition to this work, some select band members were chosen to participate in the all-state festival, which included rehearsals for three days prior to the all-state concert on Saturday, Feb. 5.
These selected members were Juniors Leila Moon, Neil Martin and Isabella Rodriguez. To be a part of the all-state band, these members were handpicked by ILMEA associates because they were considered the most exceptional of the band.
Moon described her experience as a part of the festival as nerve-wracking at first, but then she said she “grew more comfortable when the director who worked with [the all-state students], Travis Cross, introduced himself and talked about his past.”
“The atmosphere grew casual and enjoyable but still focused and professional,” Moon said. “The level of motivation to put on a good performance was also very high. Because of the atmosphere, I very much enjoyed participating with the all-state band, and the music was both technically engaging and fun.”
Outside of the convention on Saturday at the Peoria Civic Center, Moon went with fellow all-state selected members from MHS to “a fair where colleges with reputable music schools advertised themselves to all-state kids.”
“Shortly afterward, Isabella and I attended a concert where performers showed off their original compositions. We also were able to visit an exhibit hall where instruments and technique books were on sale,” she said. “We later revisited the exhibit hall again with the rest of our MHS wind ensemble classmates, and it was fun to see everyone trying instruments.”
Heading into the convention, Shelato described his goal as “simply to give the best possible performance that this band is possibly capable of giving.”
“There’s a whole Senior Class that was supposed to get to do this and ended up not getting to do this,” he added. “[It was] a testament to the resilience of the students to have had such a weird year last year and then to come back and start hitting it hard and heavy with such a big performance– to bring it together and do such a good job made me very proud of that.”
Senior Paolo Escobar described his experience at IMEC as “surreal” and that even though the day had started off with call time at 2 a.m., “it was [still] worth it.” He then said as a trombone player, he learned he still had “a lot to work on.”
“Seeing the exhibits filled with talented musicians to watching other bands play shows me there is more to a trombone than the notes on the page; it’s how I play those notes that my message as a musician is heard,” he said.
Freshman Chloe Langford reflected on her experience at IMEC as a freshman, but ultimately noted that being a freshman “didn’t affect [her] ability to enjoy the amazing musical opportunity [she and her bandmates] were taking part in.”
“Once I got there, I was in awe of the huge room and the other bands performing even though it was a very long day,” she said. “I’m very grateful for getting the opportunity to perform at such a prestigious event as a freshman, and I hope I can go back and do something similar again at some point in my high school career.”
While wind ensemble members saw IMEC as an opportunity for which to be thankful, Shelato as the director labeled the entirety of the opportunity as quite satisfying.
“We had a big push in the month of January; we had clinicians come in and work with the students in the honors bands, [including] Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music Alex Kaminsky at Vandercook College,” Shelato said. “I think just from the reactions of the students during and after the performance– I heard many students say ‘wow,’ and it really came together well.”