Two Signal Mountain High School students spent last month learning from some of the country's best musicians at the Tennessee Governor's School for the Arts, which recently concluded at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
Percussionist Eli Goeltz and violinist Hunter Wilburn, both rising seniors in SMHS' symphonic band, were selected from more than 900 applicants statewide to attend.
"Two of my role models in high school, Reid Mitchell and Thomas Faulkner, both went to the Governor's School, so I wanted to become as skilled as they were," Eli said, referencing his former bandmates in the percussion section who inspired him to apply.
Eli developed his interest in percussion in elementary school, a time when he was prone to hitting just about everything with sticks, he said. He started taking that energy out on instruments when he joined the symphonic band's percussion section in seventh grade. Though he almost quit the following year when it began to get difficult, he decided to stick with it.
"I then became more and more interested in the different techniques and aspects of percussion, and it eventually became my passion," Eli said.
Hunter said he's known for some time that he wants to study music in college, and was drawn to the Governor's School program by the number college-level classes offered.
"Governor's School is a great opportunity for me to get a little taste of what it would be like to be a music major in college through practicing, classes and orchestral rehearsals," he said.
A typical day at Governor's School begins with ensemble class, in which participants learn and rehearse a piece to perform the final week of the program. Students then attend an elective class, selecting from weekly changing topics such as composing and music theory. Next is another rehearsal, then a master class focused on technique for their specific instruments, and then rehearsal with the full ensemble. The day concludes with performances by professional artists, such as the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Joe Castillo, said Eli.
The performance by the Nashville Symphony was among the most impactful Governor's School experiences for Eli, as were the opportunities to work individually with talented professors and artists, and to Skype with composers of the music participants played.
"One thing I learned is that talent is great to have in the beginning, but once you start getting deep into really hard repertoire, it is more about how much you practice and how your work ethic is," Eli said. "The most talented of musicians will spend multiple hours each day in a practice room to learn one piece. I also learned that in order to master something, you have to spend at least 10,000 hours of effective practice time working on it."
Hunter also found the experience enlightening in terms of what is required of musicians.
"The biggest thing I learned here is the amount of knowledge needed to actually make music," Hunter said. "There is so much preparation that goes into making music that goes far beyond learning the notes in your part."
He said he also met people he believes will be lifelong friends.
"Everyone here loves music, and it's something that allows us to become so close in such a short amount of time," said Hunter. "I would definitely recommend this to others. Even if you do not plan on doing music in college, the experience will be with you forever and the connections you make are incredible."
Eli said he'd recommend the program to others as well, though only to people with a good work ethic.
"It can be difficult at times, and it will seem like everything is a challenge, but you have to keep reminding yourself that the stress will end once you take initiative and work harder and more efficiently," he said. "This program has made me a more mature artist, introduced me to some of the nicest people I had ever met, and has taught me what it takes to become who I look up to today."