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60 musicians + 19 schools = one beautiful sound

GRCC’s High School Honor Band, under the direction of Shannon Shaker, rehearses the body percussion parts in ‘Caribana Afterparty’ 

Multiple districts — West Michigan student musicians performed a concert on Saturday, Feb. 3, featuring music they only practiced for the first time together 24 hours prior. 

Grand Rapids Community College’s director of bands Shannon Shaker emailed sheet music for five songs to her High School Honor Band students on Monday. She led their rehearsal on Friday and the ensemble performed a concert the next day. 

GRCC’s High School Honor Band is made up of 60 students from 19 area high schools, including CA Frost, Caledonia, Cedar Springs, East Grand Rapids, East Kentwood, Forest Hills Northern, Grandville, Kelloggsville, Sparta and Wyoming high schools.

This is Shaker’s second year conducting the honor band. Students are not required to audition for the ensemble, but those interested connect with Shaker through their high school band directors.

“Learning a lot of music quickly is a challenge,” Shaker said. “These high school students get to meet people from all over and work together to meet the same goal — make wonderful music.” 

The honor band performed five pieces, ranging in genre, style and age of composer. Wyoming High School’s band director Kayla Cordell also served as guest conductor for the rehearsal and performance. 

Shaker said performing in an honor band was one of the highlights of her high school band experience, and hopes today’s students feel the same. 

“Playing in honor bands led me to where I am today,” she said. “My aim is to provide these students with a similar, enriching experience.”

Aspen Clark, a senior and marching band drum major at Wyoming High School, said they learned about the honor band through involvement with Wyoming Public Schools’ Middle College program

“I enjoy playing challenging music, as that is sometimes hard to find playing in a high school band,” Aspen said. 

Grand Rapids Community College’s High School Honor Band rehearses ‘Caribana Afterparty,’ composed by Omar Thomas

Aspen said they hope to study music after graduation and already feels familiar with GRCC’s music directors, students and facilities because of their involvement with the honor band. 

Caledonia High School senior and French horn player Ren Kosiorowski joined Shaker’s honor band last year on her band director’s recommendation and was looking for ways to play music outside of school. 

“My favorite part of the honor band is experiencing this with everyone else and working on new music as a whole band,” Ren said.

Read more from State of the Arts: 
Getting the bands back together
‘It feeds me,’ says teacher-artist
Learning about the art of the possible

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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