Mellow sound rolls off a violin as the bow glides across the strings. Pride radiates from a trumpet in staccato bursts. Notes decrease in volume until a final chord resolves. These and other signs of musical excellence are the qualities that the Grammy Foundation looks for when deciding the winners of the Grammy Signature Schools Program.
Each year, schools across the country receive a prestigious Grammy Award along with up to $10,000 for campus music programs. The number of winners changes by year, ranging from 10 to 18 in recent years. Within the Clark County School District, two schools, the Las Vegas Academy and Foothill High School, were nominated.
On March 19, the Las Vegas Academy learned it had won $5,000 and a Grammy Signature Schools Award. Foothill did not win an award.
“I feel a lot of pride for the school,” said LVA violinist Aife Mejza.
In the past, Las Vegas Academy has won many prestigious awards including 10 other Grammy Signature School awards. LVA has also been Monterey Next Jazz Festival finalists for eight years standing. The school also had six National Merit Scholars last year.
Because many of the schools that apply to be Grammy Signature Schools have extensive lists of awards, the Grammy Foundation must rely on group performance.
To qualify for the program, applicant schools must submit recordings for four categories: choral, string, wind/percussion and an additional program that isn’t represented in any previous recordings. Entrants in each of the four categories have five minutes to impress the judges. The minimum time for each submission is one minute and 15 seconds and each recording is judged based on the difficulty and the performance of the piece.
“(Picking songs) is the most tedious part of the application process,” said Bill Swick, Las Vegas Academy’s music chairman. “We select works in which we have high-quality recordings and pieces that represent the very best we have to offer.”
Foothill bases its choices on similar criteria; Travis Pardee, Foothill’s band director, said variety and quality are necessary.
Several instructors are needed to help the schools achieve the high levels of performance. In all, five directors help Foothill. Pardee, Philip Haines, Nick Waters and Christina Figueroa conduct the band. Figueroa also leads orchestra and guitar classes. Kimberly Snavely works with the choirs.
Foothill High School has built a history of excellence since its founding 14 years ago. The school’s drumline has been a finalist at the Winter Guard International World Percussion Championships for three consecutive years, and the marching band has been invited to perform in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Foothill’s students have a high opinion of their directors.
“(Mr. Pardee) is a good leader,” Foothill drummer Lydia Harris said.
“He improves our band a lot,” she said. “Mr. Haines gets a lot done. Mr. Waters really knows what he’s doing even when he’s cracking jokes.”
Although the band is Foothill’s best-known program, the orchestra and choir play a crucial role in the music department.
New director Christina Figueroa has been at the school for only a year and her students love her.
“I feel like (Mrs. Figueroa) is a very amazing director,” said Alyxandra Lawrence, a Foothill violist. “She’s really taken a neglected part of Foothill’s music program and restored it. She’s improved us as players tremendously.”
Snavely is also new to the music program.
“I like her a lot,” Foothill singer Laura Simonson said. “I think she’s very good for our choir and is going to help us a lot.”
Although Foothill didn’t win, Pardee is proud of the effort.
“It’s an honor for our students to be recognized for their talents and dedication,” Pardee said.
Las Vegas Academy also has a program students love.
“I absolutely love my choir director,” LVA singer Deanna Woods said. “She’s very intelligent about music and she knows how to make us sing drastically better.”
Aife Mejza said she’s improved a lot since coming to LVA.
“I’m surrounded with a lot of really talented people and it’s a really great experience,” Mejza said. “The environment is so creative and inspiring.”