Alec Shirer was selected to perform with the 2013 National Association for Music Education All-National Honors Ensemble at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville on Wednesday, Oct. 30.
The Cleveland High School sophomore percussionist left Sunday to catch the first wave of rehearsals leading up to the performance. He was one of more than 670 young musicians chosen out of thousands who auditioned nationwide.
Band instructor Jim Burton encouraged Shirer to audition for the piece last spring.
“I thought it would be an excellent opportunity because auditioning is such a good motivator to really dig down and practice. ... We are always looking for motivation for the students,” Burton said. “I encouraged him to do it, and he made an excellent audition video.”
Two audition videos were made. The first was completed in Cleveland High’s Betsy Vines Theater complete with props and a backdrop. It was later realized the sound on the video was off. Limited time meant forgoing the dramatic effects setup in favor of a band room performance.
Shirer said he felt the second was a lot better, performance-wise. Burton described their approach as, “Throw it to the wind and see what happens.”
The judges must have liked what they saw. Shirer was contacted in mid-July with his congratulations letter and an assignment to the timpani.
“I’m a little excited — a lot nervous,” Shirer said prior to departing for Nashville. “It’s really cool to be in it, but my biggest fear is I am going to get there and I will be the least prepared because of how young I am.”
According to Shirer, a majority of those performing will be juniors or seniors. Burton addressed Shirer’s trepidation by pointing out he was the first ninth-grader to make all-state in Tennessee.
“He has just done an exceptional job. He has taken his abilities and developed them,” Burton said. “We really have not had a lot to do with it. He has been the leader in that.”
Continued Burton, “He has taken what we have given him and maxed it out, and, you know, that is what you hope every kid will do.”
It was Shirer’s mother who encouraged him to try out band at the end of fifth grade. He informed her he was fine playing the piano. She requested he attend for her.
“The first thing I played on was the trombone, and the trombone wasn’t too bad. Then I played the flute, and I couldn’t make a sound,” Shirer recalled. “Clarinet — really couldn’t make a sound. Trumpet — really couldn’t make a sound. The last one I went to was percussion ... by default they put me there.”
Now music is one of the favorite aspects of Shirer’s life.
He said his interests have lately transitioned from solely playing music to composing. According to Shirer, his performance has suffered because he is sometimes more interested in fitting melodies together than practicing.
Burton pointed toward Shirer’s history with the piano as a great steppingstone for his success.
“Piano is a universal instrument. If you understand how a piano is played and how those elements are put together, any other instrument becomes so much easier because you understand how the music works and how the notes fit together to make a particular sound,” Burton said. “He was very fortunate his parents got him into that early. It allowed him to build faster than most other students.”
Shirer will perform Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Presidential Ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, alongside musicians NAfME has labeled as the top students.