Malik Norwood was “1,000%” nervous at the 2022 Tri-State Honor Band Festival at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
An East Hamilton High School senior at the time, he had been playing French horn since seventh grade, but there was something nerve-wracking about stepping onstage to perform with members of high school honors bands from elsewhere in Tennessee and in Georgia and Alabama.
“I was absolutely nervous, but as soon as I actually got into the environment of the rehearsals, it was night and day. It was wonderful,” said Norwood, now a UTC sophomore with a double major in music composition and instrumental music education. He also plays alto saxophone in the UTC Wind Ensemble and with the Marching Mocs.
Jittery nerves are common at the three-day Tri-State Honor Band Festival, attended this year by 125 high school students. Most are from Chattanooga area high schools, but some are from as far away as Chester County in West Tennessee, and Greeneville, South Carolina, each about a four-hour drive.
Jayci Clous, a sophomore who plays clarinet in the Hazel Green High School band in Alabama, drove a little more than two hours to participate in Tri-State, her first performance outside Alabama. There were nerves, she said, but also anticipation.
“I’d never been to this one before, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be expecting at this one. I think it’s a good way to get better,” she said.
To participate in Tri-State, students must be nominated by their high school band director; then register themselves to attend, said Kenyon Wilson, interim head of UTC Performing Arts.
The event took place for years but went on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was restarted in 2022 by Randall Coleman, UTC director of bands and conductor of the UTC Wind Ensemble and Marching Mocs.
For UTC faculty, Tri-State is a chance to meet, greet, audition and potentially recruit cream-of-the-crop players, even if they aren’t majoring in music.
“With that information we can determine how vigorously we pursue the student,” Coleman said.
Along with a chance to show their musical chops, high school students get a peek at UTC, at the music facilities in the Fine Arts Center and, in what Wilson said is an important step, high schoolers meet University students.
“There’s nothing more powerful than our current students saying, ‘Yeah, you should be here. You should look at UTC,’” he said.
Tri-State is more than just music, Coleman added, “The point is not to get just music students. The point is to get students.”
On the second day of Tri-State, as high school students sat onstage in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall, instruments in hand, sheet music in front of them and ready to play, UTC Assistant Director of Bands Robert Truan offered some personal advice.
“I always tell students that, ‘Yeah, you’re supposed to impress the professors, right? But you know, who’s more important than the professors in a way? The people your age.
“‘You should be impressing the people your age because you might make lifelong friends, or you might play with them again, or maybe they’ll become a famous musician and they’ll want to collaborate with you, right? So make connections and have fun and be yourself.’”