Riverwatch Middle School’s band has been honored at the national level, recently receiving the National Band Association, or NBA’s, National Program of Excellence Blue Ribbon Award.
The band was also selected to perform at the 71st Midwest Clinic, the “biggest stage a band can perform on in the world,” according to Riverwatch’s band director, Matt Koperniak.
The clinic, an educational music conference that draws talent from around the world, will be held in Chicago from December 20-23.
“It’s hard to put into words what these [honors] mean to me,” Koperniak said. “It’s surreal — not something you ever expect to happen, as great as everyone is. It’s such a once in a lifetime performance that we’re still pinching ourselves and still processing.”
Riverwatch’s band, which is the largest school band program in the state, is known nationally for its top-notch performances.
Recently, the band was invited to perform at the National Concert Festival in Indianapolis, the National Band Association Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, the Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service Conference in Savannah and on “Strike Up the Band!” on Atlanta’s NPR station, WABE 90.1.
Koperniak said the blue ribbon award is a culmination of years of work.
“They evaluate band programs regionally in all areas and it’s comprehensive over the course of a year or several years,” he said. “They look at the performances of all the students then name several regional bands, which we were [one of].
“Riverwatch was named the southeastern regional band in November 2016 and then they choose a middle school, junior high and three high schools for the national award.”
He said he credits the students for the program’s success.
“I’m sure every band director everywhere says the students are what make the difference, but our students are hardworking, talented and supported by great parents, a great school community and the [Forsyth] community,” Koperniak said. “From my vantage point, it’s the work of students.
“What truly makes difference to the [NBA] committee is what’s happening yearly — even though we were the recipient this year, they’re looking at previous years.”
Riverwatch’s band was established in 2004, the same year the middle school opened, though Koperniak did not start as director until 2008.
In his time at the school, his students have won numerous awards, something of which he said he is proud.
“I’m still in a state of shock and disbelief about [these honors] but no matter what, at the end of day, it hasn’t changed what we do in band room every day,” he said. “We want every student to have amazing band experience, and awards are nice and performances are exciting but it doesn’t change what we strive to do every day.”
Koperniak said they’re already planning for the Midwest Clinic performance.
“Doing this like music selection, logistical elements,” he said. “We’ll have to hit the ground running when we come back from summer break, but we’re having a composer writing a piece to premiere.
“The [Clinic] performance will be the world premiere of that piece.”