When this Superior High School team meets to train, it’s music to their ears.
The competition they're preparing for spins together musical compositions from different eras and countries that they must become experts in. No top 40 hits or teen pop is included. The students will put their knowledge to the test Friday, Jan. 24 during regional competition for the Minnesota High School Music Listening Contest in Duluth.
This is the first year SHS has competed. The team includes seniors Benjamin Hintzman, Madeline Casey and Aaliyah Paxton and sophomore Natalie Sandor.
During practice Monday, Jan. 20, the students pooled their knowledge of dates, tunes and trivia to identify snippets of songs and the composers who wrote them.
“Partita for 8 Voices,” Sandor said seconds after Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning a capella piece began playing. The American was the youngest composer to win the prize, Sandor said.
When Louise Farrenc’s “Nonet in E-flat Major” started, Hintzman pinpointed the date of the piece, 1849, by associating it with the California Gold Rush.
“Because of this piece, she got her pay raised up to that of her male colleagues,” Sandor said of the French Romantic composer.
Also up, Francesca Caccini’s opera “La Liberazione di Ruggiero” from the Baroque Era.
“Most prolific female composer of her time,” Paxton said.
There was an Igor Stravinski piece that sparked a riot and another that coach Amy Eichers likened to the music of Tatooine from the “Star Wars” movies.
“John Williams, master thief,” Paxton said of the “Star Wars” composer.
The contest has been sharpening the musical knowledge of high school students since 1988. The objective is to inspire students to become lifelong participants in the musical experience.
Last year, teams from Denfeld High School and Harbor City International moved from regional competition to the championship round. The Denfeld team earned third place under coach Clare Chopp.
Eichers, the SHS orchestra director, lofted the idea of starting a team to Sandor. The violinist recruited Hintzman, who plays trumpet and piano, and choir member Casey. Alternate Paxton, a bass player in the orchestra, rounded out the team. Practice began in October.
It’s been a learning experience.
Sandor loves orchestral music, but expanded her range to include vocal and Renaissance music for the competition.
“I didn’t expect to like it, but I do,” the sophomore said.
Paxton, who started training with the team last week, was also surprised.
“I learned that I know a lot more classical music than I thought I did originally, because I listen to film scores” she said.
Classical pieces, particularly popular ones like Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz,” appear over and over in movies and commercials, Paxton said.
“I’ve been learning a lot too,” Eichers said. “Some of these composers are composers that I hadn’t really heard of before, especially the Mexican music.”
During Friday's contest, the students will be tested in five rounds, each worth 20 points. One called the “Mystery Round” includes samples of music that are similar to the ones students have been studying.
Eichers said she hopes to encourage a few SHS teams to take part in the competition next year. Schools can have more than one team, but only one can advance to the championship round.