Saipan Marching Band Takes Silver In London Olympics Festival

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Manta Ray Band honored to receive international award

By Kevin G. Bautista

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 30, 2012) – After working tirelessly for about a year to meet their target of $250,000 for their historic two-week trip to the 2012 London Olympics and receiving unwavering support from the entire commonwealth, the Saipan Southern High School Manta Ray Band already has something to show for it: a silver award.

The highly acclaimed band placed second at the London Celebration Music Festival, which is part of the 2012 Summer Olympics. The invitational event saw the participation of five musical ensembles.

The festival’s organizing committee, World Projects LLC, has been tasked at the London Olympic Games by the Olympic Organizing Committee to provide musical entertainment at various Olympic events and sites.

World Projects sponsored a judged performance by the five invited ensembles in connection with the Olympics again, as they did during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The event was held on July 27 from 2 to 5 p.m., London time, at Central Hall Westminster, which is right across the famed Westminster Abbey and adjacent to the Houses of Parliament and the famous clock tower, Big Ben. It is also considered central London’s largest conference venue.

Manta Ray Band musical director William DeWitt said the silver award was "quite an honor for the Manta Band to receive."

"Although they had hoped for the gold, the band members knew that they had played at their absolute peak level during the 20 minutes they were given to perform. The judges, Dr. Felix Hauswirth, Dr. Larry Sutherland, and Dr. Keith Allen, commented enthusiastically about the Manta Band’s performance afterward," he added.

One judge disclosed to DeWitt that SSHS was the most highly regarded concert band on the judges’ score sheets, bested only by a group of Chinese traditional musicians from Beijing that included professional instrumentalists, dancers, and music educators. They were not a concert band.

The five musical ensembles that competed in the London Celebration Music Festival included participants from China, California, the CNMI, and a local group from the United Kingdom.

"With the understanding that no performance is ever 100 percent ‘perfect,’ nonetheless, the feeling of the band was one that included great satisfaction with the overall quality of the performance. The students knew that they had played well when their final piece, ‘We Are the World,’ received an extended ovation requiring two curtain calls from their conductor," he said.

He said nerves undoubtedly affected the band, but he noted that the students eventually turned those emotions of anxiety to feelings of confidence.

"Performing in such an amazing venue seemed surreal at times, and also a bit intimidating. During the sound check on stage before the event, students had to control their emotions, nerves, and sense of amazement at playing in such a historically important venue. By the time their performance was due, they had calmed their anxiety and performed with a level of confidence and passion that inspired not only the audience, but the other ensembles as well, who enthusiastically cheered the Manta Band and encouraged our students to believe that we might be the ones to receive the coveted Gold Award," he said.

DeWitt added that in the adjudicated areas of intonation, expression, phrasing, dynamic contrast, selection of repertoire, posture and appearance, intonation, balance, and unity, the Manta Band received very solid marks.

"We are proud to be representing the CNMI, the Public School System, Saipan Southern High School, and our Manta Band program. We wish to thank everyone back home for the opportunity to show the world what a treasure our young musicians are!"

The 46-member delegation and their 14 chaperones will depart London on Aug. 4.

The Manta Ray Band won the gold medal at the Tumon Bay Musical Festival in 2007 and 2008. In 2010, it won the silver award at Carnegie Hall for the New York International Musical Festival. The band has also performed at the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

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