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American String Teachers Association “ASTA was a wonderful experience,” wrote one student when asked to reflect on the festival, which was held Feb. 27 in Albuquerque. “To think that a public middle school orchestra was able to compete in such a prestigious competition and receive an excellent rating is extraordinary,” the student continued. “We had so much fun working hard and preparing for the competitioneeASTA was an amazing experience I will not soon forget.” The Los Alamos Middle School eighth grade orchestra was the only group from New Mexico selected to participate in the fifth annual ASTA National Orchestra Festival (NOF), sponsored by Yamaha. This year’s NOF consisted of 17 ensembles from 12 states and more than 800 orchestra students. “In the spring of 2007, I received a brochure asking for applications to the festival,” said orchestra director Cheryl Smith-Ecke. “Since the ASTA conference was to be held in Albuquerque, I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t try.”She added, “I sent in a tape, past programs and names of nationally-known educators who had heard previous LAMS orchestras perform. I was delighted to hear that we were chosen.”Then the work began. In order to raise the approximately $5,000 needed to attend the festival, parents and students worked on fund raising. Money was earned by selling refreshments after the November concert, performing at the Posse Shack for the Luminaria Walk in December and a “Play-a-Thon,” where donors pledged money per hour played.At the same time, the group began working on the pieces they would perform. “We tried a lot of different pieces to find the ones that would show off the group’s strengths,” Smith-Ecke said. The final program included arrangements of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, first movement;” Stamitz’ “Symphony No. 8, third movement;” Bizet’s “Farandole;” and “Conquistador!” by Monday. The day of the festival the students traveled by bus to the Hyatt Regency in Albuquerque. They listened to a rehearsal of the National High School Honors Orchestra that included a Los Alamos High School Symphonic Orchestra student. Then, they attended two master classes. During the first class, seven students performed for the violin-viola-cello master class, while the others learned by observation. The clinician, James Palmer, worked with each student on some aspect of their playing. The second master class was fiddling where all the students participated and learned “Cripple Creek.”“The entire class got a kick out of playing in a fun and completely different atmosphere,” wrote one participant.The performance was held in the Grand Pavilion of the Hyatt Regency. The orchestra received ratings and comments from leading national adjudicators Kathleen Horvath, John Clinton and Ray Ostwald.After the performance, nationally-known clinicians Bob Phillips (the arranger of the Stamitz piece LAMS performed) and James Kjelland worked with the orchestra on technique, bow placement, bow usage and balance. The orchestra’s overall score, measured against other mid schools and private and public high schools, was “excellent.” To put the “excellent” (II) score in perspective, out of 17 schools attending, only four high schools, which included two private schools, a magnet performing arts schools and a public school, received the highest rating of “superior” (I).The program from ASTA NOF will be performed at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Duane Smith Auditorium. The seventh-grade concert strings will also perform. The concert is free and open to the public.