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August 2015
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Your High School Musical Memories



Heading back to school means auditions are coming up, rehearsals will be starting soon, and before you know it, you’ll be practicing music for a holiday concert even though it’s not even officially fall. For many, one of the best parts of heading back to school is performing with school ensembles.

We asked four organizations – the Illinois Music Education Association, the Elgin Youth Symphony, Midwest Young Artists, and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO) – to tell us some of the most commonly performed repertoire in their ensembles.

But first, we asked you what music you remember performing in your school ensembles. Check below to revisit some of your favorite memories from making music in school, and then compare your memories to data provided to us about music in schools in Chicago and throughout Illinois.

Your Musical Memories

We asked you to tell us what music you remember performing in your school ensembles, and here’s a word cloud we created from your responses about memorable repertoire and composers.


What became clear from the dozens of responses we received is that everyone was playing a lot of difficult repertoire at a young age. Some composers that stood out, as you can see from the word cloud, were Brahms, Bach, Mozart, Rossini, and Copland.

Interestingly everyone remembered not only specific pieces, but also specific arrangements of those pieces, whether the person doing the arrangement was well-known or not so well known.

Works by or arranged by John Rutter were also mentioned frequently, along with Handel’s Messiah, Mussorgsky ‘s Night on Bald Mountain, and Aaron Copland’s Fanfare For the Common Man.

Everyone also remembered the teachers who inspired them throughout their high school years. Sometimes, what we remember most is not the music we’re playing, but who we’re playing with!

Counting Composers

The Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) is a division of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).  With over 3,500 members in 9 districts across the state, it is the largest fine arts education organization Illinois.

Each of the 9 districts provide musical enrichment opportunities for middle school and high school students, including an annual honor band, orchestra, and choir where selected students have the opportunity to perform with guest conductors from across the country.  ILMEA also hosts an All-State Festival that also has honors ensembles, and moreover, lectures and clinics for an array of participants throughout the state.

We asked ILMEA to give us an idea of what pieces high school students play most often in band and orchestra.  Here is a chart detailing what composers you might hear during an Illinois high school band or orchestra performance.



The chart above distills data provided by ILMEA which mentioned over 100 composers and 200 pieces most frequently performed by high school bands in Illinois. Those who contributed data include Darcy Nendza (Executive Director), Mark Corey (State President), Brayer Teague (State President Elect), Jeremy Marino (Orchestra Division Vice President),Brian Covey (ILMEA District 1 President), Sarah Reckmeyer (District 2 President), Nathan Hoke (District 6 President), Nicole Obert (District 8 President), Jeremiah Kramer (District 8 President Elect), and Patrick Barnett (District 9 President).

In addition to providing the most frequently performed composers and pieces heard by high school bands, ILMEA told us the most frequently performed pieces by high school orchestras. Can we have a timpani roll, please?!? Here are the most frequently performed orchestral works arranged alphabetically by author


Composer Work
Bach Bach Bradenburg No.3
Beethoven Symphony Number 5
Bernstein Overture to Candide
Bizet Carmen Suites
Brahms Academic Festival
Brahms Hungarian Dances
Britten Simple Symphony, Britten
Copland Hoe Down from Rodeo
Glinka Russlan and Ludmila Overture
Grieg Peer Gynt Suite
Holst Planets: Mars and Jupiter
Kabalevsky Colas Bruegnon Overture
Khachaturian Armenian Dances
Mahler Symphonies
Mendelssohn Medelssohn String Symphonies
Mozart Magic Flute Overture
Mozart Mozart Divertimenti 135-137
Mussorgsky Night on Bald Mountain
Rimsky-Korsakov Capriccio Espagnol
Rimsky-Korsakov Dance of the Tumblers
Rossini The Italian in Algiers
Rossini William Tell Overture
Schubert Unfinished, Mvt 1
Shostakovich Festive Overture
Shostakovich String Quartet No.8
Shostakovich Symphony Number 5th
Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker
Verdi La forza del destino


No repeats, please!

When speaking with representatives from the Elgin Youth Symphony, Midwest Young Artists, and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO), one thing became clear – nobody likes repeats. Well, there are a few exceptions of course. But, these three organizations prefer to provide young musicians with the opportunity to explore a broad range of repertoire. See what music each most commonly performed below.

Elgin Youth Symphony

Now in its 40th season with over 350 students from 50 communities, the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra has given young musicians throughout northwest Illinois numerous musical enrichment opportunities. Randal Swiggum, the Symphony’s Artistic Director, told us:

“In the last 18 years, there are only a handful pieces we’ve performed more than once, including:

Rimsky-Korsakovs’ Scheherazade
Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony
Mahler’s Symphony No. 1
Revueltas’s Sensemaya
Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5
Jennifer Higdon’s  blue cathedral
Britten’s Soirées Musicales

“Oftentimes, it’s concertos that get more frequent performances, because of their popularity with students who win the concerto competition.  In that category, the Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor would be hands down the favorite, because it’s often chosen by concerto winners.  Also, Mozart violin and flute concertos appear more frequently than others.”

“Pieces we’ve commissioned tend to have appeared more often. Elgin Overture, by New York composer Daniel Brewbaker, has probably been performed 4-5 times in 15 years.  Also, Brewbaker’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned for our Maud Powell String Quartet, has had quite a few performances by that group since it was premiered a few years ago.”

“Like most youth orchestras, we’ve always focused on big, standard repertoire that we feel students should know – not just as performers but as cultural citizens.  As our season themes have gotten more complex and touching on bigger themes and cultural issues (relations between symphonic music and architecture, Shakespeare, music as a “time-art”, etc.), we’ve really expanded into much less well-known repertoire, such as William Walton’s Music for Hamlet, Christopher Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body”, Hamilton Harty’s Irish Symphony, Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1, etc.”

“Our collaborating artists have also pushed the boundaries of what we have explored musically. Last year, Fulcrum Point New Music Project performed with us, and one of the pieces was by Nigerian Afro-pop legend Fela Kuti, “Water No Got Enemy”—a giant jam session with full orchestra.  This year, we’ll collaborate with eighth blackbird on “Workers Union” by Louis Andriessen (1975) in a semester of focusing on music’s relation to time and repetition, as well as music as political statement.”

Midwest Young Artists

Founded in 1993, Midwest Young Artists has grown to include numerous opportunities for young musicians, such as orchestras, chamber ensembles,  jazz ensembles, wind symphonies, and choirs.

“MYA has performed Bernstein’s Overture from Candide as a fun encore or showpiece on many concerts throughout the years, and a mainstay on our annual alumni concert in December is Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture!”

-Jeremy Krifka, Orchestras, Chamber Music, Theory, and Summer Programs Manager

MYA’s Symphony Orchestra has gotten larger as well as more and more competent so we’ve taken on bigger challenges – The Rite of SpringEin Heldenleben, Don Juan, Don Quoxite.  But where we have changed the most is in the competency of the younger 8 orchestras with the second orchestra playing entire Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Schubert’s “Great” C major Symphony, Schumann’s symphonies, and more.”

– Dr. Allan Dennis, Founder, Executive Director, and Symphony Orchestra Director

Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO)

Since 1946, the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra has continually given young, Chicago area musicians opportunities to learn and perform in an international and cultural landmark. Joshua Simonds, Executive Director, told us:

“Funny enough, the most played piece at CYSO in the past 15 years is Barber’s Second Essay, which was performed 3 times! There are a few pieces with 2 plays (including Dvořák’s New World Symphony). The most commonly played pieces, excluding concerti, at CYSO over 69 years have been:

  1. Strauss – Death and Transfiguration
  2. Shostakovich – Symphony No. 5
  3. Sibelius – Symphony No. 1 and 2
  4. Kabalevsky – Colas Breugnon Overture
  5. Rimsky-Korsakov  – Capriccio espagnol”







  • jessiekitty

    I was very fortunate to attend a public high school with a superb music program (Princeton High School, NJ). The town was extremely supportive of fine music education (and high quality arts education in general), and organizations in the town included Westminster Choir College (across the street from my high school, and from which I earned a master’s degree), American Boychoir, and strong musical offerings at the Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, several churches, and other schools.

    So we had great teachers and large audiences, especially for the winter concert held in the Princeton University Chapel–the audience was about 2000 people.

    William Trego and Nancianne Parrella were the director and accompanist of the high school choral program, which included five ensembles; each group practiced for an hour every day for full credit in the same schedule as all other disciplines. (Likewise for the stage and jazz bands and chamber and full orchestras.) Through my choral experience of four years, I sang major works by Bach (Magnificat and Jesu, meine Freude), Haydn (Paukenmesse and Lord Nelson Mass), Mozart (Requiem), Vivaldi (Gloria), Schubert (Mass in E-flat), Duruflé (Requiem, for Paul Robison’s memorial service and on tour), Persichetti (Mass), Brahms (motets and Liebeslieder Walzer), plus shorter works by Schütz, Gabrieli, Hassler, Morley, Kodály, Verdi, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, Barber, Menotti, and many others. It was an unbeatable experience, and when I became a conductor I drew on that experience for repertoire and pedagogy.

    The long history of excellence in that choral program included the State Department sending the top choir to the USSR at the height of the Cold War; the choir sang Schönberg’s “Friede auf Erden” and Webern’s two cantatas, which were also sung at a musicology conference. Duruflé and Persichetti conducted performances of their own music. The choir toured internationally, and when my brother was in the top choir (after I was), they performed at the Spoleto Festival in premieres of operas by Menotti and in a dramatic performance of Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass.”

    We learned the music so well that I can still sing much of it with little or no reference to scores. We sang in English, German, French, Latin, Italian, Hungarian, and Spanish, and with orchestra, piano, organ, or unaccompanied.

    We took pride in *not* entering competitions (solo-ensemble contests or other kinds). The value of the repertoire and the high quality of our performances were more than enough reward.

    I hope that there are programs like this around the country still. This is a model of quality, depth, breadth, and excellence that enriched our lives during and long after high school.