In the Founders Lounge of the Frick Center, a cacophony of sound gives way to a lone clarinet, followed by a handful of rich notes sliding into tune as Ross Kellan, baton in hand, takes the podium.
Across the Mall in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, hundreds of voices rise in harmony under the direction of Cheryl Frazes-Hill.
Much of the Elmhurst College campus was buzzing with music and the excitement of several hundred high school musicians during the all-day District 1 Illinois Music Education Association Festival on Saturday, November 19. The musicians—among the best in the Chicago area—came from public and private high schools and had auditioned for the opportunity to attend the annual festival, where they rehearsed for and performed a final concert under the direction of esteemed conductors.
Peter Griffin, chair of the Elmhurst College Department of Music, said the day brought an estimated 3,000 people to the campus, including about 720 students and 200 music educators from more than 75 schools.
Greg Bimm, band director at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, is a 40-year veteran of ILMEA.
“The festival has great conductors, so the kids have super experiences,” Bimm said. “Sharing music with kids from other schools is where they learn.”
“At our school, we don’t have an orchestra, just band,” said Luke Nance, a senior percussionist from Lockport High School. “It’s nice to come and hear the strings and play different types of literature. I’m a timpanist, so I enjoy playing in orchestra.”
“This is one of the toughest districts to even make District festival,” said Stacy Williams-Jackson, president of ILMEA District 1. “Having it at Elmhurst College heightens the level of prestige of the event. If kids are visiting a college campus for the first time, I think it gives them license to dream and aspire to want to be part of these programs.”
“I’m a firm believer that the campus is one of our greatest selling points,” Griffin said. “We’re very proud of our music program and all the other departments’ programs.”
“I love that we have 700 of our best musicians here all day, soaking up this culture, these beautiful buildings, dreaming,” Williams-Jackson said. “Maybe they’re here thinking, ‘I need to go here. I need to audition here. I need to be part of this.’ It’s great for Elmhurst. It’s great for these kids.”