Hitting a high note

AIKEN - Chords for Amazing Grace and flute trills for fantasy songs filled Aiken High School's gym as the area's best student musicians prepared for a Friday evening concert.

In one day, three bands learn four to five pieces of new music for an evening concert at the Aiken County Band Clinic.

"It isn't that hard, you just have to focus," said Alyssa Gavalas, 13, from North Augusta Middle School, who was among 276 students who participated in the clinic for middle and high schools across the county.

Students are chosen from an audition that tests basic musical knowledge, such as solo performance and sight reading or playing a piece of music for the first time.

Those with the highest scores are chosen for state, regional and county clinics.

"You are with all the best people in Aiken County, so you play at your best," Alyssa said.

Pat Riehl said her 13-year-old son, Spencer, wasn't happy about spending his day off from school with the band, but said she believes such events will benefit his future.

"It gives him a chance to visit the high school and get a feel of what it will be like when he comes to school here," Mrs. Riehl said. "Everyone is so wonderful and attentive."

The clinic also gives the students a chance to work with directors outside the school system.

David Schaffer, from Miami University in Ohio, and Dr. Cheryl Fryer, from the University of South Carolina Aiken, conducted two of the three bands.

The high school band even performed two of Mr. Schaffer's original pieces.

"It was great to know exactly how to play his song," said Caitlin McNurtrie, 17, of Aiken High School.

Mr. Schaffer said producing a concert in one day is tough, especially when students typically put together a program in four to seven weeks.

Because of time constraints, Mr. Schaffer chose music the students would be able to perform well in a short amount of time.

"I know they are going to be tired tonight, but they are going to come out of this with something new that other classmates don't have," Mr. Schaffer said. "This brings them up a notch as musicians."

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.