PICTURED: Clockwise from top left: Beatrice Barnes,  Emily Gonzalez, Lucca Boccali, Kiran Maserang and Brynn Gray. All photos submitted

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer


Five young musicians from Cabrillo Middle School in Ventura have earned the distinction of being selected for the All-State Honor Band as part of the annual California All-State Music Education Conference (CASMEC). The conference takes place in Fresno every February, and will be offered virtually Feb. 19-20 this year.

“It’s a great honor to be selected and we are more than proud of these students,” said Mario Boccali, music director of Cabrillo’s music department.

This isn’t the first time Cabrillo middle schoolers have participated in the CASMEC — in fact, Boccali’s students have been chosen for all-state for 15 straight years. Students continuing the tradition this year are Beatrice “Bea” Barnes (French horn), Lucca Boccali (tuba), Emily Gonzalez (trumpet), Brynn Gray (trumpet) and Kiran Maserang (oboe).

Every year in the fall, more than 2,500 junior high and high school students from across California submit recorded auditions in a bid to take part in one of several all-state ensembles, including orchestra, jazz, wind, strings and choir. Of these a few hundred are selected to take part.

For the honor band, young musicians are expected to submit two recordings: a set of scales and a solo chosen by CASMEC for their particular instrument. It’s a demanding undertaking.

“They have to play the solo perfectly,” Boccali explained. “A lot of hours of hard practice and hard work . . . the solo is very challenging.”

Putting in the work

Boccali provides musicians with the required music and helps with organization, pointers and recording, but said that otherwise he’s mostly “hands off . . . it’s up to them to prepare it.”

“By the time they get to that level,” he continued, “they know they have to put in the work.”

Emily Gonzalez, a 13-year-old eighth grader who lives in Ventura, has been playing trumpet for two and a half years. She said that she practiced 30 minutes a day, every day, to prepare for her audition. 

“I practice a lot,” admitted the jazz fan, who cites Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis as two of her biggest influences. One thing Gonzalez discovered during the process: “I learned not to be as nervous and that I’ll do better. If you practice enough, you’ll be more confident.”

Beatrice “Bea” Barnes, 14, also of Ventura, said one reason she loves the French horn is because of its “super rich tone.” She admitted, however, that as a competitive gymnast, she also likes a challenge, and the French horn is known to be “one of the more challenging instruments.”

She devoted 45-60 minutes most days of the week to audition prep. “I focused on the specific things I had to play, and on my basics. The hard solos won’t be easy if you don’t practice the basics.”

She also praised Cabrillo music teacher Garbriel Garnett, tutor Gregg Hutchinson (also a teacher at Anacapa Middle School) and  Boccali for their guidance and support. “They taught me everything I know.”

“I was driven to the oboe [because] it has a really unique sound,” said Kiran Maserang, 13, of Ventura. “The oboe has more potential sounds and ways it can be interpreted.”

The piece he had to play for his audition — Haydn’s “Menuetto and Presto” — “has many parts where you don’t get to breathe a lot.” To prepare, he practiced 45 minutes every day and “played a lot of long tones” — essentially holding notes for as long as possible. 

He noted that the pandemic has allowed him to focus more on his music, which gave him an edge this year.

“Last year I tried out and I wasn’t experienced, but also I didn’t put in the time,” he said. With fewer distractions due to the COVID-19 closures, “I put in more time this year and that made the difference.”

CASMEC goes online

Traditionally, CASMEC is a four-day conference that takes place in Fresno. Students are in “nonstop rehearsals Thursday through Saturday, with a performance on Sunday,” Boccali said. 

This year, however, the conference is just two days and will be conducted virtually. According to Boccali, students will get the music ready on their own, and will be recorded while performing their parts separately. The online concert, with all the players, will be put together in post-production.

Cabrillo students have mixed feelings about this.

“I’m mainly concerned about the audio quality,” said Maserang. “Playing solos . . . may not sound musical and melodic.” Nevertheless, he’s looking forward to the experience and “hearing how it sounds altogether.”

Barnes is looking forward to meeting the other honor band members, but said that, “There’s this feeling you get when you’re playing with all these people in a big band . . . you don’t have that feeling online.”

What hasn’t changed are the qualities students participating in the all-state experience develop.

“Perseverance, self motivation, hard work, independence, a positive attitude,” Boccali named off. “Attention to detail — a tough thing for this age. Working together for a common goal.”

Cabrillo middle schoolers have been among those selected for the all-state band every year since 2007, a fact that Boccali said attests to both the school’s music program and its students.

“I hope all incoming students take advantage of what we have to offer in the music department at Cabrillo,” he said. “And I think our community should know how outstanding our kids really are. They’re spectacular kids doing spectacular things.”

The California All-State Music Education Conference takes place online Feb. 19-20. For more information, visit casmec.org For more information on Cabrillo Middle School Music Department, visit sites.google.com/view/cabrillomiddleschoolmusic.