PMEA offers young musicians chance to perform with Duq community

Griffin Sendek | multimedia editor. PMEA District 1 Band West Festival will be held in the Powers Center ballroom.

Emma Polen | features editor

Jan. 27, 2022

This year, Duquesne was selected to host the annual Pennsylvania Music Educators (PMEA) District 1 Band West Festival which will be held in the Powers Center ballroom. 

On Jan. 28 and 29, students might notice a younger crowd of musicians roaming on campus.

The musicians consist of 133 talented 10th to 12th grade students selected from across 34 school districts in Allegheny, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Because of Covid-19, the audition process was moved to completely digital, but the performances will still be in-person. In fact, the in-person experience was one reason North Hills High School junior clarinet player Tyler Workinger was excited to try out for PMEA.

“I chose to audition for PMEA this year because I was excited to have in-person festivals again,” Workinger said, “I always learn something new from the guest conductor, either if it’s a new way to practice, how to play my instrument better or just how to be a better person.”

Workinger has participated in PMEA for five years, but this is the first PMEA band he will be part of on the district level. 

Most years, high schools participating in the festival takes turns hosting the event. However, this year, high school students and band directors will be offered a unique opportunity to visit Duquesne.

Paul Doerksen is a professor of music education at the Mary Pappert School of Music, and he will be managing the behind-the-scenes operations of the PMEA West Festival. After 18 years of involvement with PMEA, Doerksen is happy for a chance for Duquesne to host the festival and show what the school can offer to young musicians. 

“I’m glad the opportunity came along to step up,” he said.

All throughout Friday and Saturday, high school students will continue to receive special learning opportunities from the Duquesne music community. 

The festival is split into two 8-hour days consisting of rehearsals, lunch, masterclasses and finally the performance beginning at 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

James Gourlay, director of bands at the Mary Pappert School of Music and the 2022 PMEA West guest conductor, will be in charge of rehearsing the group. Gourlay explained the significance of incorporating masterclasses with professional players from the music school into the festival. 

“To meet a specialist, particularly someone from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra…who’s at the top of the profession, and learn from that person would be a bit like Ben Roethlisberger teaching people to throw a ball and I think they’ll have a lasting effect on the students,” Gourlay said.

During the luncheon, high school students will also be entertained by Duquesne’s Jazz Faculty Septet, which Doerksen mentioned as yet another opportunity for the Mary Pappert School of Music to show off their prestige as one of the top destinations for potential music students in the area.

High school band directors will have a chance to learn from the Duquesne music school staff through technology, clarinet and percussion workshops. The collegiate-level and high school band teachers will work together to make music education in the area even stronger. 

Suellen Engelhard, the Sto-Rox High School Band Director, will be representing Sto-Rox school district at the festival along with two of her student musicians.

“I am looking forward to the collaboration time with colleagues,” Engelhard said. “PMEA festivals provide time for directors to share experiences and brainstorm together.” 

Current Duquesne music students will also benefit from the event. 

Robert Traugh, adjunct professor of music technology, will be assisting Doerksen with running the event. He shared how the 47 participating undergraduate music school students will get to work alongside the younger high school musicians. 

“There’s so much to learn. Something like this is putting those skills [interacting with K-12 students] into practice for maybe a student who’s a sophomore or a junior and hasn’t had the opportunity to do any field placement student teaching,” Traugh said. 

Despite the challenges of Covid, the concert will maintain a degree of normalcy. Gourlay is looking forward to performing with the student musicians in-person. 

“The preciousness of that is incredible,” Gourlay said. “And it’s something that if we ever took for granted…we’ll never do that again.”

One major tradition that will be maintained at this year’s festival is that of the band uniforms. Students are asked to wear their band uniforms to represent the school they come from. 

“The band uniforms show the diversity in the band,” Engelhard said. “Each uniform is unique and is a great representation of all the schools participating in the festival.”