Robinson strings students gear up for elite clinic

When Robinson Middle School’s orchestra applied to perform at the Midwest Clinic, a few things went wrong, said orchestra director Laura Carpenter.

With just a few days left before the entry deadline, the group needed both audio and video recordings of its performance. However, the equipment had technical difficulties, and the group filmed part of its audition on a cellphone.

The orchestra had time to play its two pieces only once before school. They had to send their first take — the one in which a student threw up and the bell went off. The group overnighted its packet to meet the deadline.

Carpenter said she thought Robinson’s chances of making it were a long shot.

“When we got selected, it was just absolutely hilarious,” she said with a big laugh.

In December, a group of about 80 seventh- and eighth-graders will travel to Chicago for the Midwest Clinic, a prestigious international band and orchestra conference. About 16,000 people attend the clinic annually.

Of the nine orchestra groups selected, Robinson is the only middle school. At the conference, the orchestra will spend time receiving instruction, performing and listening to other groups.

For eighth-grader Brooke Talbott and her friends, the group they really want to see is the orchestra from China. When Talbott talked about the conference, her eyes got bigger.

“I’ve watched videos on YouTube, and I’m so excited about it,” she said.

The trip will cost each student about $1,000. The group is sponsoring a garage sale at Robinson today and plans to sell fireworks next week near Rock Road and Harry.

Fundraising for the trip is only part of the preparation, though. At the clinic, the orchestra has a 50-minute performance during which it will play 10 to 12 new pieces in a concert hall that seats 2,500 people.

Many of the songs will be at a ninth- or 10th-grade level, Carpenter said. She said the group spent three months on the two audition pieces, which were at the same level.

“That’s why we’re starting so early,” Carpenter said.

Students have practiced about every other week this summer. Once school starts, they will have extra practices in the evenings and on some Saturdays.

This week, as half the group rehearsed, students played in the warm music room with fans on and the doors open. The December conference will feel like quite a change, Carpenter said.

“We’ll go from the two extremes: practicing in the dripping sweat to performing in the bitter cold,” she said.

Robinson has attended the clinic twice before, in 1999 and 2004. After this year, though, Carpenter said she doesn’t think the group will reach the talent level to apply again because students in the district won’t start orchestra instruction until the sixth grade.

On Monday, the school board voted to tentatively approve the superintendent’s final budget proposal, which eliminated the fifth-grade strings program.

Carpenter said many of her students think the clinic is a competition, but she’s tried to explain that the competition was the recording they sent.

“We’ve been chosen,” she said. “We’re the elite now.”

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