Nearly 50 Henry E. Lackey High School students spent most of their Jan. 10 school day in either the band room or the school’s auditorium. They were practicing musical selections for their upcoming performance at the Maryland State Band and Orchestra Festivals. What made the practice session unique for the students were the guest conductors invited to work with them.

“They are helping us bring the light out of the music. Before it was as if the music was a little foggy, and now we are bringing out the sun and the light. It is amazing how they can read off our music and help us learn how to play better,” Suan Hill, a Lackey junior who plays the viola, said of the guest conductors.

The professionals who led the clinic include Stephen Czarkowski, music director and conductor of the Apollo Orchestra and director of strings at Norwood School; Earl Jackson, chairman of music at Landon School; and Master Sgt. Nathan Wisniewski, a violinist and arranger with the Air Force Strings and The United States Air Force Band. All three guest conductors have several years of experience working with students and musicians across the country and overseas.

Earlier this school year, the Charles County Arts Alliance provided Lackey with a $500 Arts in Education grant. Dr. Alan Freeman, Lackey’s longtime director of instrumental music, worked with the school’s band boosters to match the grant and set up the clinic for students.

During the clinics, the conductors worked with students on their arrangements and provided tips on how they can better perform. Jackson has been participating in the clinic with Freeman’s students at Lackey for the past eight years. He said the best thing about the experience is the students. “Your kids are great. They are attentive, responsive and quiet. They listen and want to learn from us, and know that if they respect us and learn then they will succeed,” Jackson said.

Freeman arranges the clinic so his students can learn from professional musicians. Additionally, this was the first year the clinic was extended to students in the school band. “The clinic is unique in that it gives the students a lot of musical insight from people who play professionally for a living. They are here to help these guys with anything, like style and interpretation, to help them sound professional,” Freeman said.

Jacob Dodohara is a junior at Lackey and has been playing the cello since the fifth grade. He said he chose the cello because both of his parents played a wind instrument, and he wanted to play something different. For him, being in the orchestra is about more than just playing an instrument with his peers.

“It’s a fun thing to do, a challenge. We’ve made good friendships and we are all working toward one objective. To get a musical piece together and be our best for the festival,” Dodohara said.

During the orchestra’s practice of “Amadeus,” a classic by composer Wolfgang Mozart, Czarkowski, a cellist, grabbed a spare bass instrument and joined the students. “We have wonderful experiences with the kids. The music is taken seriously and the students work hard and respond well,” Czarkowski said.

Wisniewski joined the clinics at Lackey about four years ago and said he enjoys the experience of giving back to the community. “As we teach them, we learn back from them. This is a great opportunity for us to pass on some of the knowledge we have learned through our own experiences,” he added.