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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Under new director, Brighton orchestra ensemble wins state award

Nov 08, 2021 02:26PM ● By Julie Slama

Last year’s Brighton High Advanced Chamber Ensemble, under the direction of new orchestras director Alia Gonzales, was recognized by the National Music Education Foundation and awarded the Mark of Excellence state winner. (Photo courtesy of Brighton orchestra)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Brighton High Chamber Ensemble recently took the stage in its fall concert as well as playing Mozart for the school National Honor Society chapter’s induction ceremony.

It was their first performances since they were recognized as the state winner in the National Music Education Foundation’s Mark of Excellence.

“We were the only state-level winner,” said Alia Gonzales, who was new to Brighton High last year as its orchestras director.

Gonzales came to Utah from Texas, which swept all the other awards in the competition.

Last year’s 14-member advanced chamber ensemble submitted their performance of all four movements of “St. Paul’s Suite” by Gustave Holst and “She Will Hang the Night With Stars” by William Hofeldt. 

“We were rehearsing all last year, and we knew that in early June, we would need to have a fantastic video submission, so we took numerous recordings all throughout the spring to get our best recording to submit,” she said.

It wasn’t until Sept. 15 they learned they were the state winner—and the only state to have a winner.

Brighton’s ensemble was one of 22 programs recognized from 236 entries across 38 states. The group was expecting a plaque to arrive in November.

Of the group’s 14 members, only two were seniors. The rest are part of the strings program, that includes the philharmonic, that has grown from 37 students to 54 in the past year. The chamber ensemble now has 26 students, almost doubled last year.

“We have started off as a stronger ensemble than last year, and I am looking at some wonderful literature for us for the spring,” Gonzales said.

As a Skyline High graduate, Gonzales had moved to Texas to earn her degrees in violin performance—her bachelor’s from Southern Methodist University and her master’s from Sam Houston State University. She then gave private lessons before teaching general music in elementary schools and becoming an orchestra clinician for middle and high schools. After moving with her family back to Salt Lake area, Gonzales, having played for the 2009 Latin Grammy Awards in Houston and on the Danilo Montero’s “La Carta Perfecta” 2014 Grammy Award-winning album, was brought to Brighton in 2019 as a clinician to work with the violins and violas. She was hired the following year.

“I am fortunate that Mikala Mortensen (Brighton’s band director) saw the value of having a string player teach the orchestra and…to Mr. (Tom) Sherwood (Brighton’s principal) for catching the vision and creating the part-time position,” she said.

While she has yet to decide if this year’s ensemble will compete for the Mark of Excellence Award, Gonzales already is excited about their playing.

“I feel like we started at a higher level than we did last year and we’re playing some big works. I like to play different genres of music with the students. Of course, we always come back to the classical literature, but last year we played Coldplay and a jazz tune, Michael Bublé’s ‘Everything,’ utilizing one of our own bassists as the set player,” she said. “I’m excited about this year. We’ve got a variety of music on our plates.”