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ELDRED, NY — Classes were over and Regents exams were in full swing, but it seemed almost like business as usual in the office of Brian Nivison, director of music and curriculum coordinator for the Fine Arts Department in the Eldred Central School District. Nivison was eager to share the results of the district’s recent NYS School Music Association (NYSSMA) festival.
He, along with cohort Sara Shult, passionately pursue the tradition of musical excellence in the district.
Giving testimony to that statement was Nivison’s evident pride in discussing the performances of the Junior-Senior mixed chorus and the Junior High and Senior High concert bands in the festival. The groups traveled to Kingston and were rewarded with designations of “excellent” and “outstanding” ratings, performing at levels of difficulty that would occur at districts more than twice the size of Eldred.
In Sullivan County, only Eldred consistently attends the festival and consistently walks away with high ratings. It is one of few opportunities for the musical ensembles to be subjected to authentic adjudication, which is a bit more rigorous in its review than an audience of proud parents and grandparents.
This level of achievement is the result of much hard work and dedication on the part of the teaching staff and the student performers. The music selected is a key element in the level of difficulty assigned to the evaluation process. Before the interview, Nivison was busy reviewing an orchestral piece by Richard Strauss for the band’s repertoire next year. Some of the music is chosen because it is included in the state manual that grades selections that can be performed at the NYSSMA festival. Others are chosen because of their timelessness, whether they are of the classical genre or classic in the Sinatra vein. In their quest for excellence, practices are recorded and played back, much like game tape in an athletic competition, and Nivison prepares copious notes critiquing the rendition for review with the group.
The bands performed at NYSSMA on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and among their selections were the Battle Hymn of the Republic and a piece called the March of the Paratroopers. This gave Nivison an opportunity to incorporate a cross-disciplinary lecture on the historic significance of the day, a lesson which did not go unnoticed by the young musicians.
Nivison praised Shult and her predecessors in the elementary school for providing an excellent feeder system. Shult reported that the majority of current 4th graders were signed up to begin band when they return as 5th graders, the first year they are eligible. Nivison also acknowledged the excellent coordination of the programs between the two schools.
The conversation came to a timely conclusion when 10th grade flutist MacKenzie Simonsen came to get in some additional practice time as she prepares to audition for the Hudson Valley Honors Band. Continuing the sports comparison, the band is similar to a traveling team, bringing together the best of the best area musicians, and Nivison provided coaching as they worked together to make beautiful music.