VandenBrink earns spot in MSBOA All-State Band
THREE RIVERS — Playing the tuba isn’t just a hobby for Three Rivers High School junior Blake VandenBrink.
It’s a passion and something that VandenBrink takes great pride in given the time that he puts into it not only during the school day but countless hours outside of the classroom year round.
VandenBrink’s dedication recently paid off, as he was accepted into the 2022 MSBOA All-State High School Band on the tuba.
VandenBrink will be performing in a concert today as a member of that band at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids. The concert is held in conjunction with All-State Weekend and the Michigan Music Conference.
VandenBrink arrived in Grand Rapids on Thursday for the start of rehearsals late in the morning and practice continued all day on Friday and this morning.
VandenBrink was encouraged by Mai Van Lo, assistant director of bands at Three Rivers, to try out for All-State last year as a sophomore and he got eighth place, which earned him honorable mention.
“Last year when I got honorable mention that’s when I realized I wanted to be All-State. I practiced a lot, played a lot of A-Tudes and went to camp over the summer at Interlochen in the Traverse City area. Camp was a great experience because I got to play music with a lot of people I really look up to,” VandenBrink said.
“I learned so much from everyone there, even my peers. It really brought me up to the next level. After camp I started to grind out some A-Tudes, songs from a book that are picked for the students to play at the auditions for All-State band in late October.
“My audition was in Mattawan with other people from Three Rivers. My A-Tude ended up being perfect. I found out in late November that I had been selected to the All-State Band,” VandenBrink said.
The tuba wasn’t the original instrument that VandenBrink began playing when he started in band back in sixth grade.
“When I started out in band I played the trombone, but I wasn’t very good at it because I could never seem to play the high notes liked everyone else,” VandenBrink said.
A year later VandenBrink switched to the tuba as a seventh grader. Vo, his teacher, told VandenBrink that they needed a tuba player.
“I liked the tuba because I could play the low notes pretty well and my range was much better,” VandenBrink said.
VandenBrink continued to play the instrument all the way through middle school and began taking private tuba lessons with Vo once he got into high school as a ninth grader.
“At that point I realized I really wanted to get better at the tuba because it had become such a big part of my life,” VandenBrink said.
“Music I believe is a big part of everyone’s lives. Its really beautiful how you can make sounds that sound good and help people feel emotion.”
VandenBrink says the private lessons with Vo also helped him come out of his shell a little bit.
“I used to get really nervous and could never play too well in front of people for auditions. She helped me realize there were opportunities for me to show other people what I love to do,” VandenBrink said.
VandenBrink is motivated by the success of other peers who play the same instrument as him.
“I have been working a lot lately with my low range. Even if you believe you are in a good place with your development with your instrument, there is always room for improvement,” VandenBrink said.
VandenBrink practices up to an hour at home on weekends and up to an hour and a half on weekends.
“I love every second of this though. There are a lot of rehearsals with quintet and band, scheduling and lessons, but it’s worth it,” VandenBrink said.
To be selected for the elite band, participants must audition at one of the 15 districts held throughout the state. Each district has someone who records each participant on their instrument. Every instrument follows the same parameters. Individuals are judged on sight reading, scales and the A-Tude they play.
The recording is then sent and played for a panel of MSBOA judges. There are special judges for each instrument and the top six for the Tuba from each district are selected for the All-State Band.
During his district audition, VandenBrink used a tuba that along with others in the TRHS band program had reached the end of its life cycle. Through ongoing fundraising from the Band Boosters, a brand new tuba was purchased by them and it arrived just after Thanksgiving. The use of the new tuba has further enhanced VandenBrink excitement and playing experience.
VandenBrink is real excited for this weekend’s performance.
“I’m expecting some real good guidance. There is going to be a low brass coach there. Mainly, I’m just excited to be able to play with some of the best musicians in the state and get a look at what it looks like to play at that level. All the pieces we are playing are fun and super awesome,” VandenBrink said.
VandenBrink plans to continue music in college, but hasn’t decided on exactly what he is going to study or pursue as a career, but he knows music will always be a part of his life in some way shape or form.
VandenBrink is involved in marching band, symphony band, jazz band and pep band at Three Rivers. He is also a member of the Wildcat varsity boys’ soccer team.
“The band culture here at Three Rivers is amazing. Our band sounds great and I love the friendships I’ve made through the program. Its fun to go to football games and pep band at the basketball game,” VandenBrink said.
Outside of school, VandenBrink works out regularly at the Pit Fitness Ranch and also belongs to the South Bend Orchestra.
Cheryl Thomas, Three Rivers Director of Bands, is real proud of VandenBrink and the hard work he has put in with his instrument.
“In the short time that I have been here, Blake is the most spirited tuba player that we have in our band. He is awesome and has so many amazing skills and he can do anything. He and the rest of kids in our band have set the bar high for success,” Thomas said.
Scott Hassinger can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.