AOA: What a Great Year It Has Been!

Only a few short weeks remain before school lets out for the summer break. A chance for us all to hopefully relax and unwind… and start preparing for another jam-packed school year! As you begin to reflect on your successes and those moments that didn’t quite go as planned, consider sharing your knowledge with our membership by submitting a session proposal for the 2020 AMEA Conference. We know that our teachers have different perspectives and unique areas of interest and we would love to see your insights shared with our membership! While you’re at it, also consider applying to have your ensemble represent the AOA as one of our lobby performance groups and help us increase the orchestra presence in our state.

As of the writing of this article, the AOA has concluded its activities for the year with another wonderful All-State Orchestra Festival and our 4th stand-alone Music Performance Assessment event. Our 2019 All-State Orchestra Festival was held at the University of Alabama from February 7-10. We had almost 250 students across 3 ensembles successfully audition for the opportunity to work with our fabulous clinicians – Dr. Raphael Jimenez (Oberlin College), Mr. Bryan Buffaloe (Clear Lake HS, TX), and Dr. Gail Barnes (USC). Each year, the AOA holds a composition contest that is open to both domestic and international composers. The winner’s work is then premiered by our Festival Orchestra. This year we premiered Discord by Nabil Abad. Mr. Abad is an up-and-coming composer who is currently studying at Baldwin Wallace University. His work was chosen from more than 30 entries from all over the world. It is always interesting to hear student’s perspectives on these works as it is, for some of them, their first exposure to modern orchestral music. Some don’t like it at the first read-through and their opinion does not change even as they become more familiar with the work. Others absolutely love it from the get-go, and some grow to like it as they spend more time with it. It always helps to hear from the composer both during rehearsals and at our dedicated Meet the Composer session. I would like to thank the AOA Board, our Executive Director – Julie Hornstein, our District Chairs, section coaches, UA staff, and parent volunteers for all the hard work they put into making the festival a resounding success. I would encourage you all to stay tuned to both our Facebook page and our website for some potential updates regarding next year’s audition procedures and the festival itself. The AOA will release All-State audition material by August 2, 2019. However, please keep checking our Facebook page for any updates or changes to this date.

The AOA’s 4th stand-alone MPA event took place at Gadsden City High School on April 5, 2019. One of the judges for the event commented that he had judged at our first ever event and was pleased to see the progress being made in our state over the last 4 years. The following ensembles were awarded a Superior rating with straight 1s on-stage and a 1 in sight-reading:

  • Gadsden Middle School Symphony Strings
  • Decatur Youth Symphony Chamber Strings
  • Gadsden City High School Titan Symphony Orchestra
  • Baldwin Magnet School Advanced Orchestra
  • Alabama School of Fine Arts String Orchestra
  • Dunbar Magnet School Guitar Ensemble

We will be posting the complete results to on our webpage soon. Dates and locations for next year’s event will be posted by the end of July. Please consider bringing your ensemble to this event in 2020.

I hope these last few weeks bring you great success as you wrap up spring concerts and finish out the year. As always, if there is anything that the AOA can do to help you and your program please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


Guy Harrison, President

Alabama Orchestra Association

AOA: Strike up the… Orchestra!

What a wonderful AMEA Conference! As physically exhausting as these conferences can be, I for one, am feeling professionally refreshed and primed for the year ahead. The AOA made a point to sponsor sessions that not only spoke to our membership directly but also touched on topics that are relevant to all music educators, both seasoned and novice alike. Our headline clinician, Bob Phillips (Alfred Music), was inspirational with his sessions on beginning strings, the art and science of motivation, and his session on transforming the tone of your ensemble. We were also fortunate to have Dr. Jason Sulliman (Troy University) inform us about the importance of wellness and injury prevention and Dr. Anne Witt (University of Alabama) discuss classroom management strategies. Joe Brennan (Haverford High School, PA) joined us again this year with tips on how to improve ensemble skills and Dr. Thomas Brough focused his attention on our pre-service teachers with tips and advice on things young educators need to know. Finally, our colleagues at the University of North Alabama – Dr. Tracy Wiggins, Dr. Meghan Merciers, Sam Merciers, and Dr. Whitney O’Neal joined us for an early session on Saturday morning on teaching improvisation in the ensemble setting. It was a great way to end the conference!

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Greg Gumina for providing the opportunity for the Alabama Symphony Youth Orchestra to perform at the Keynote address. Greg’s support of the AOA is very much appreciated. Having the ASYO perform highlighted the wonderful opportunities that could exist for ALL of our students with the establishment, growth and strengthening of string programs around our state. I encourage everyone to seek out those students that are not participating in your school music programs because they don’t have an ensemble to join and consider advocating for those students with your local school boards. The AOA is here to assist in any way we can to help give those students the same opportunities as their peers in band, choir and other school-based arts programs.

A big shout out also has to the go to the Alabama School of Fine Arts String Ensemble for their lobby performance. Directed by Kim Strickland the ensemble played an eclectic program that was very well received by those that attended. The AOA would like to encourage more of our state string/orchestra programs to consider applying to perform in 2020!

By the time this edition of Ala Breve arrives in your mailbox or inbox the AOA will have concluded its annual All-State Orchestra Festival. We would like to thank the University of Alabama for once again hosting the festival! As in previous years the AOA held a Composition Contest with the winning piece receiving its premier performance by the Festival Orchestra. This year we will feature Discord by Nabil Abad. Mr. Abad’s work was chosen from more than 30 entries from all over the world. In case you missed it in a previous issue, our clinicians this year are Dr. Raphael Jimenez, Director of Orchestras at Oberlin College, Mr. Bryan Buffaloe, Director of Orchestras at Clear Lake High School (Houston, TX), and Dr. Gail Barnes (University of South Carolina), Professor of Music Education and Director of the USC String Project. We are excited to have such a talented line up of conductors to work with our students! I also need to take this opportunity to thank the members of the AOA Board for all their hard work in bringing our All-State festival to fruition. Without such a great team effort we would not be able to put forth this opportunity for the students in our state. I would also like to thank all of our District Chairs for their work in recruiting students and running the auditions for this year’s festival.

Last, but not least, the AOA will be hosting our 4th Music Performance Assessment event on April 5 at Gadsden City High School. I would like to thank Keith LaBenne and the Gadsden City High School administration for their willingness to host us this year. More information about the event can be found on our website –

I hope that your year is filled with great music making, student success, and professional satisfaction. Please reach out and let us know how the AOA can better serve you and your students. I look forward to seeing you at one of our remaining spring events.


Guy Harrison
Alabama Orchestra Association

Important Spring Dates
Registration Deadline for MPA – Orchestra: March 1

MPA – Orchestra Event: Friday April 5
Gadsden City High School

AOA: From the President!

Thank you for taking the time to read this message from your Alabama Orchestra Association. If the start to your fall has been anything like mine you are already in need of some time to rest and rejuvenate from the hectic start of the new school year.

While the start to the school year is always a busy time, it doesn’t slow down for those of us involved in the orchestral world here in Alabama. For us, October is audition month with students from all over the state preparing and auditioning for a spot at the 2019 Alabama All-State Orchestra Festival being held February 7-10, 2019 at the University of Alabama. With a great lineup of conductors and some fantastic repertoire, students will have an experience like no other right here in their own state.

Auditions for our All-State Festival will take place during the first two weekends in October, with results posted to our website by November 18. Students that have a successful audition and are selected for All-State will need to accept their spot by December 1. Financial Aid forms are also due at that time.

The AMEA conference in January 2019 is the perfect pick-me-up as we transition into our spring semester. Your AOA has been fortunate to select several great clinicians, headlined by Bob Phillips, who will offer something for everyone – both for our division as well as the general membership as a whole. More information about these sessions can be found elsewhere in this edition of Ala Breve. If you have not yet done so, this would be a great time to renew your membership and register for the conference.

I would also like to bring to your attention the work Chip Gulbro and the new ASTA-Alabama board is doing to advance string playing in Alabama. They will be holding their annual Honor Strings Festival at the University of Alabama from October 26-28, 2018. For more information about the festival and the other work being done by the Alabama chapter of ASTA, please visit their new-look website at:

Finally, your AOA wants to hear from you. We would love to feature you, your program, your upcoming events, and anything else you feel should be shared on our social media platforms. We need to better highlight all the orchestral activity occurring in our state and we can assist to make that happen. Please take advantage of this opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you and seeing you all soon. Regards,

Guy Harrison

AOA: From the President!

Dear Educators,

Welcome back to what I hope will be an exciting and successful year! The Alabama Orchestra Association is looking forward to serving the needs of our division’s teachers and students throughout the 2018-2019 school year. I would like to start by thanking Dr. Samuel Nordlund for his leadership and vision during his recent tenure as President of AOA. Since my arrival in Alabama only five short years ago I have observed first-hand the continued rise in talent, performance level and growth of traditional programs such as the Orchestra All-State Festival and the implementation of new ventures such as a dedicated Orchestra Music Performance Assessment event. It is because of the leadership of dedicated professionals such as Sam that the Alabama Orchestra Association is able to provide quality opportunities not only for string players in Alabama but for any instrumentalist that wants to experience the excitement and musical satisfaction that comes from performing in a symphonic setting.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to you the members of the AOA’s new executive board – President-elect Dr. Daniel Stevens (UNA), Secretary Rachel Christmas (George W. Carver HS), and Treasurer Jacob Frank (Decatur Youth Symphony). Along with myself (Auburn University) and past-President Dr. Samuel Nordlund (Samford), the new AOA board consists of a diverse group of educators and music professionals covering orchestral and string education from elementary through higher education and from school-based to community-based programs. Our mission continues to be to support and strengthen existing string and orchestra programs within the state as well as working to help establish new programs throughout Alabama to help meet the needs of underserved students.

Research shows us that Alabama, as well as some of our bordering states, continues to lag behind other regions of the country with regards to school-based string and/or orchestra programs. Currently, many of the students who participate in our programs must seek out and join one of the various community ensembles in order to participate in their desired musical ensemble as they are not able to participate in a school-based string/orchestra program at their local school. Many of these community-based ensembles meet once or twice a week during evenings or on weekends which can have a considerable impact on student’s schedules. As such, it is always with great excitement that we celebrate the news of a newly established school-based string or orchestra program, recognizing those school systems that are committed to providing their students with a comprehensive, well-rounded music program.

On a different note, as we begin a new school year I would love to hear from those of you currently teaching in a school-based or community-based string and/or orchestra program here in Alabama. We would like to publish a series of feature articles throughout the year on current teachers and programs via our social media pages and other available outlets. Stay tuned for more information!

The fall is an especially busy time for the AOA. The beginning of August will see excerpts posted for the upcoming Orchestra All-State Festival auditions. More information about audition dates, times and locations can be found on our website – As in previous years, students can take advantage of being able to audition in any district to help avoid scheduling conflicts brought about by football games or marching competitions. If you are a band director, we sincerely hope that you will encourage your students to audition for our All-State Festival. For wind, brass, and percussion students, the experience of performing with strings as well as the challenge of playing one to a part is second to none.

I am excited to announce that we have a stellar line up of conductors for our 2019 Orchestra All-State Festival which will be held from Feb 7-10, 2019 at the University of Alabama. Our Festival Orchestra will be under the leadership of Dr. Raphael Jimenez (Oberlin College), with Mr. Bryan Buffaloe from Clear Lake HS (TX) conducting our Sinfonia Orchestra, and Dr. Gail Barnes (USC) conducting our Consort String ensemble. Music being performed includes Manuel de Falla’s Three Cornered Hat Suite No. 2, Prelude & Mazurka from Coppelia by Delibes, Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave, Op. 31, Carmen Suite No. 1 by Bizet, and of course the winning entry from the AOA’s Annual Composition Contest.

The Alabama Orchestra Association always strives to find quality clinicians for the AMEA Professional Development Conference. We look for clinicians who will inform, educate, and inspire not only our state’s string teachers but music educators across all the divisions. The 2019 AMEA Conference (Jan. 17-19) will be no exception with a lineup of distinguished clinicians headlined by Bob Phillips who will present three sessions including a general session titled The Art & Science of Motivation. Bob, who currently serves as the Director of String Publications for Alfred Publishing, is renowned as an innovator in string education and brings a wealth of knowledge to his clinics drawn from his 27 years as a public-school educator.

We also expect to have several string vendors at the 2019 AMEA conference. As we finalize our vendors we will let you know who they are via our Facebook page so you can contact them with any specific needs you might have while you are attending the conference. Hopefully we won’t have any of the weather issues that forced several of our string-specific vendors to abandon their travel plans last year.

The 2018-2019 school year will also feature the 4th annual Orchestra Music Performance Assessment event to be held at Gadsden High School in the Spring of 2019. We are working on dates in April and should have those finalized and available to teachers soon. Please check our Facebook page and/or the AOA website for updates. We encourage all string teachers including those that teach guitar and non-traditional string ensembles from both school-based and community-based programs to plan on participating.

Lastly, the AOA is here to serve you. If we can be of any assistance to you or your program please reach out to us. We hope you have a successful and rewarding school year and look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming events.

Guy Harrison, AOA President

AOA: Passing the Baton

Sam Nordlund

Greetings, Music Educators!  As we all look forward to summer, we will also hopefully be able to look on the progress we have made this year, with pride.  Since the 2018 AMEA Professional Development Conference, the AOA has presented the 2018 All-State Orchestra Festival, and the 2018 statewide OMPA.  With record numbers of auditions and accepted students, All-State Orchestra was again a splendid success.  We welcomed three esteemed conductors to Tuscaloosa, including Oregon Symphony Orchestra Associate Conductor and UA Music Ed alumni, Norman Huynh.  Incoming AMEA President, Gregory Gumina, even made a cameo as guest conductor with the Festival Orchestra, leading his arrangement of “Alabama” in honor of the Bicentennial celebrations.  Our biggest concern for the festival was the flu epidemic that was so prevalent this year, but thankfully, the large majority of our students and clinicians were able to stay happy and healthy.

This past April 6th, school and youth orchestras from across the state converged on Samford University in Birmingham for our third annual OMPA.  The Auburn University Youth Orchestra Sinfonia and the Orchestra at Ramsay High School both earned “straight ones,” and several other ensembles earned overall Superiors.  Congratulations to all the outstanding performers and directors!  The AOA is already in the process of planning the 2019 OMPA, and we anticipate continued growth in numbers and quality of programs around our state.

During the All-State Festival in February, AOA held elections for Executive Board positions coming open on June 1.  On that date, Dr. Guy Harrison will officially take over as President.  The AOA Board is excited to announce that Dr. Daniel Stevens will move from Secretary to Vice-President/Pres.-elect, Jacob Frank will remain on as Treasurer, and Rachel Christmas, orchestra director at Carver High School in Birmingham, will assume duties as AOA Treasurer.  I am extremely proud to pass AOA leadership on to such capable individuals, whether new to AOA, or just in a new position!  Julie Hornstein, our constant steadying force, continues to serve as AOA Executive Director.

As I sign off on my final article as AOA President, I want to thank you for your support of Music Education in Alabama, and for reading my articles.  I hope I have been able to share my passion for growing orchestra and string programs in Alabama.  All that has been accomplished in my two-year tenure would not have been possible without the expertise and teamwork from the entire AOA family.  I am looking forward to a bright future for orchestra students, teachers, and programs across Alabama, as our new leadership continues moving forward!

AOA: Springing Forward from #AMEA2018

Sam Nordlund

Right now it doesn’t really feel like it, but Spring is right around the corner.  What better way to launch us toward warmer weather than a fantastic AMEA Professional Development Conference in the middle of a polar vortex!  Despite typical first-year obstacles presented by the move to Birmingham, AOA’s clinicians and performers were first-rate.  Although we missed the intimacy of Montgomery, the Birmingham Sheraton and BJCC offer the potential for our division to grow significantly.

Dr. Bob Gillespie, our headline clinician, presented three outstanding sessions.  As a co-author of the Essential Elements method books, his introduction into the new technology options was extremely informative.  Likewise, his demonstration of teaching bowing, from the basics to more advanced techniques, was spot-on, and demonstrated his decades of experience as a leading pedagogue.

What was most exciting to me, though, was his session on motivating students.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hear a word of it, because our session room became so packed that I was unable to even crane my neck through the door.  But I could hear the excited response from the standing room only crowd.  I heard from AOA members who have been involved much longer than me that this was by far the highest attendance at an AOA specific session.  The reason we drew so many from across the other divisions (especially collegiate) is that the session title was not string or orchestra specific.  It didn’t hurt that we had a world-class clinician who has been a keynote speaker at conferences around the world.

I should not neglect the other AOA clinicians, as Joe Brennan, Travis Baird, and Anne Witt all presented fascinating sessions.  Besides his session on technology in the classroom, Brennan also gave a public masterclass with performers from the Alabama School of Fine Arts.  The involvement of performing groups from ASFA was a welcome addition, and the AOA will involve more student groups at future conferences, both as chamber groups and orchestras.  Speaking of orchestras, I was thrilled to present the outstanding performance of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.  As the only premier, full-time orchestras in the state, they really do represent us well, and give inspiration to students all over Alabama.

The first four months of the calendar year are incredibly eventful for AOA.  By the time this is published, we will have (hopefully) wrapped up another highly successful All-State Orchestra Festival at UA, February 8-11.  We had the largest number of auditions ever, and the largest number of accepted students.  All-State Orchestra is consistently improving in not only quantity, but quality, thanks to music educators all over Alabama.

On April 6, AOA will hold our 3rd annual Orchestra MPA at Samford University in Birmingham.  Registration forms and information are available at  We hope to grow this event, supporting the visibility and viability of orchestra programs across our state.  After this busy Spring, I will hand off the Presidency of our organization to Dr. Guy Harrison on June 1.  His vision and experience will lead to continued growth, and take the AOA to even greater heights.  Orchestra in Alabama is trending upward, and I like it!

AOA: Fostering a Spirit of Friendliness, Fellowship, and Cooperation

Sam Nordlund

Paraphrased from AOA’s bylaws, this title exemplifies the message that our organization attempts to spread throughout our musical, and non-musical community.  Despite the state of our country and politics, AOA seeks to be an inclusive organization striving to support Alabama’s existing string and orchestra programs, teachers, and students, and helping nurture new ones into existence.  There is no room for discrimination.  In our state, we are the musical minority, the red-headed step-child, if you will.  Therefore, we are constantly seeking to gain equal recognition in the public eye.

Paraphrasing further in our bylaws, the AOA seeks to stimulate professional growth and advance standards of achievement in the string and orchestra communities.  I believe we have had remarkable success in raising the standard of string and orchestral playing in the state.  Alabama All-State Orchestra now has three highly competitive orchestras, where twenty years ago, we only had one.  AOA will host our third MPA in April 2018, a tradition we hope to continue and expand upon.  New school programs have sprung up in Tuscaloosa in the past fifteen years thanks to Dr. Anne Witt and Birmingham city programs are starting to make a come-back.  Just this year, Norwood Elementary in Birmingham started a new program, feeding into the middle and high school programs that already exist.  In time, this system will be musically strengthened.

Despite the positive news and trends, I am very frustrated by the refusal of administrators in the wealthy “Over-the-Mountain” area south of Birmingham, my own home base, to support string and orchestra programs.  I’m also frustrated by accounts from parents of band directors refusing to sponsor students to All-State Orchestra when the schools do not have an orchestra program or director to sponsor them.  Another complaint is against administrators who view All-State Orchestra as akin to a “baseball travel-team,” and not an excused absence.  Attitudes like this are what our community deals with frequently in Alabama, if you were unaware.  In other states, school orchestra is viewed as an essential and beneficial offering.

With the mixture of public and private programs (youth orchestras, string projects, and programs that serve the economically disadvantaged), Alabama is on a positive trajectory, however slight.  Bringing in top notch clinicians and conductors is one way the AOA strives to foster growth and excitement in our state.  At the 2018 AMEA conference in January, our headline clinician will be world-renowned pedagogue and educator, Dr. Robert Gillespie, Professor of Music at The Ohio State University.  At the conference, we will have the opportunity to learn teaching methods and techniques to improve ensembles and students in both the classroom and studio settings.  We will also have the opportunity to learn about physical and mental wellness, and how it can affect our performing and teaching.  A new addition in 2018 will be chamber music performances and masterclasses, an element that will show off our top students, and increase AOA’s presence at the conference.  Besides these sessions, there will be many other topics discussed, and professional opportunities that I hope you will be as excited as I am to experience, including the outstanding Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

We are honored to have Norman Huynh direct the 2018 All-State Festival Orchestra.  Norman is Associate Director of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra.  Leading the Sinfonia will be Dr. Perry Holbrook, Director of Orchestras at Walton High School north of Atlanta, and the Consort String Orchestra will be conducted by Dr. Andrew Dabczynski, Professor Emeritus at Brigham Young University.  I hope to see you in Birmingham at the conference, and again in February at UA for All-State Orchestra!

AOA: Band Directors…We want your Best and Brightest at 2018 All-State Orchestra!

Sam Nordlund

Now that I’ve grabbed the attention of someone who would normally just flip past the orchestra page, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my column.  If you are a band director, I sincerely hope you’ll encourage your students to audition for All-State Orchestra.  Our auditions will run from late September into early October – visit for specific District audition times and location times.  Right now, you are considering turning the page, because surely you will have a football game or marching competition that conflicts.  WRONG!  Each District schedules multiple days for auditions, and students are even allowed to audition outside of their district.  For instance, the Central District will most likely hold auditions October 6-8, Friday through Sunday.  Even with a football game on Friday and a competition on Saturday, your students could still choose Sunday audition times.

Now that you know how feasible it will be for your students to audition, I encourage you to also think of the benefits that your students will gain.  Over the past few years, I have heard from band students (or through their directors) who became involved in All-State Orchestra for the first time, sentiments such as “I had a solo part the entire concert!” and “It was amazing playing with strings!”  Your students who participate in All-State Orchestra will return to band the next week as new and improved musicians.  They may even be inspired to pursue a career in orchestral performance or even conducting.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by our 2018 Festival Orchestra conductor, Norman Huynh.  A young man in his early 30s, Norman is the Associate Conductor of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, a coveted position for any conductor, not to mention one of his youthful age.  Norman is also a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he was a euphonium-playing Music Education major, and marched in the MILLION DOLLAR BAND!!!  I am extremely excited that he accepted my invitation to lead our 2018 Festival Orchestra, and the homecoming that he will receive.

Alabama has such a tremendous wind band culture and when a large number of these great players don’t audition for All-State Orchestra, we orchestra people scratch our heads.  It is partly a cultural phenomenon, but I also believe Band Nerds and Orch Dorks are truly cut from the same cloth, and that there is simply a lack of understanding between our communities.  I challenge you to play Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 or Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 for your band.  Better yet, play them Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, performed by last year’s Festival Orchestra, or the Finale movements from Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 and Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Barber’s School for Scandal Overture or Stravinsky’s Firebird to get an idea of what’s in store for the 2018 All-State Orchestras.  Believe me – your students will thank you.

AOA: Springing Forward

Sam Nordlund

Admit it, teachers are just as excited about summer as students. The end of Spring is a time to reflect on the year, and plan some much deserved rest and relaxation for the summer. Reflecting back on the 2016-2017 academic year, the AOA has much to be proud of. Terrific sessions at the state convention in January were followed by a tremendous All-State Orchestra Festival. I may be biased, but it seems to me that the level of all three orchestra improves every year. And all the students had a blast, whether they were orchestra regulars or first-timers. Finally, thirteen string and orchestra groups from across the state performed at MPAs at Auburn University and UNA. For our second annual MPA, we were very pleased with turnout and performances. Congratulations to the Auburn Youth Orchestra Sinfonia for straight superiors, and all the other performing groups for their hard work and terrific improvement!

Besides the rest that we all deserve, the AOA is actively planning for the future. The 2017-18 academic year will be another exciting time for orchestras in Alabama. We hope to expand our presence at the AMEA Convention in Birmingham, specifically by adding chamber music sessions and masterclasses, and recruiting string vendors to offer products and services that are more suited to string and orchestra teachers and performers.

The 2018 All-State Orchestra Festival, February 8-11 at UA, will be another highlight of the year. I think the most inspiring storyline will be the return of Norman Huynh to lead the festival orchestra. Norman received his BM in euphonium at the University of Alabama, studying with Demondrae Thurman in the early and mid-2000s. Since then, he has received his MM in conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, and has been conducting and guest conducting around the world ever since, to great acclaim.

His most recent appointment has been Music Director of the Portland (OR) Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra with an annual budget of $15 million. Although I have never met Norman, I am beyond excited for his “homecoming,” and the energy that this young but experienced musician will bring to our orchestra students. I also hope it especially motivates many of our wind and brass students to not only audition for All-State Orchestra, but to realize the performing, conducting, and teaching opportunities that are possible through orchestra.

If you do not know of a school or youth orchestra in your community, please contact the AOA to let us help you find one, or plant the seeds for creating one. Band teachers, encourage your students to attend summer festivals such as FSU, Sewanee, Brevard, Eastern, Interlochen and more, to experience high level orchestra, band, and chamber music. You will help open doors for their future success in any musical field. Happy summer!

AOA: Orchestrating Excellence

Sam Nordlund

The 2017 AMEA Professional Development Conference was a smashing success! The AOA welcomed BYU Professor Emeritus and longtime orchestra composer and educator, Dr. Andrew Dabczynski, as a guest clinician for three sessions, sponsored by the AMEA, J.W. Pepper, and Alfred Publishing.  We all learned a great deal about helping young students with sight-reading, teaching Baroque beyond just the notes on the page, and creating a deeper learning experience in our classrooms or studios.  Besides Dr. Dabczynski, we hosted or co-hosted sessions by Jacob Bitinas, Anne Witt, Blake Richardson, and Robert Grogan on everything from technology in the classroom to dealing with parents.  I certainly learned a great deal and I know other conference participants did as well.  Next year, we plan to increase the string and orchestra presence at the AMEA conference, and we hope you will join us in Birmingham.  Besides presenting outstanding clinicians, in 2018 we plan to involve pre-college and collegiate chamber groups in masterclass type sessions as well as lobby performances.  Our goal is to begin to flood the conference with string and orchestra students and increase our presence.  Along those lines, the AOA is looking at moving the All-State Orchestra Festival to the AMEA conference starting in 2020.

What especially stood out to me at the 2017 AMEA conference was simply how determined the orchestra community in Alabama is.  As everyone knows, we are the red-headed step-child of music education in Alabama.  But that is not stopping the level of All-State Orchestra from rising every single year.  Our featured orchestra, the University of Alabama’s Huxford Symphony Orchestra, led by Blake Richardson, presented a simply spectacular performance of American music.  What heartened me most is that some band directors heard the performance and were blown away.  Exposing the band community to the potential of a full orchestra is a crucial step toward increasing orchestra programs and opportunities for students in this state.  In the same vein, as I played Copland’s majestic 3rd Symphony with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra last week, I couldn’t help but wish every single music student in Alabama, string or band, could have been present.  To me, there is nothing quite as majestic as the full symphony orchestra.

We will soon welcome conductors Sandra Dackow, Foster Beyers, and Christina Chen-Beyers, and composer, Alejandro Basulto-Martinez, to work with talented orchestra students from across the state.  The All-State Orchestra will be held February 9-12 at the University of Alabama.  Later this spring, the Alabama Orchestra Association will host our second annual Orchestral Musical Performance Assessments.  Our April 21 location will be Auburn University, and the University of North Alabama will host ensembles from across the state on April 22.  Registration is available at  We hope to see full orchestras, string orchestras, and even guitar ensembles again this year.  Please encourage your local strings or orchestra programs to participate.  At the AOA, we are orchestrating excellence!