Joseph Wong with County Honor Band


Wong Playing the bass clarinet.

For the past 5 years, I have been a bass clarinet player for Ventura County Honor Band (VCHB). VCHB is exactly what the title implies: an honor band for the students residing in Ventura County. It is separated into two groups: one for the middle schools and one for the high schools.

The audition process is pretty rigorous, so most students usually don’t try out for it. It consists of two audition pieces and three different scales. On top of that, students must re-audition each year in order to secure a spot in the band.

The audition pieces are predetermined (the county one is usually based on a shorter version of the all-state honor band audition pieces) by the California School band and Orchestra Association. They choose pieces that focus on differing strengths that musicians need in order to perform well in the band. For example, one piece would focus on the technical speed (faster, more rhythmic pieces) of the player and another would focus on the quality of the sound produced by the player (slower, more melodic pieces).

Here are some of my highlights of my experiences in VCHB:

My first year was in eighth grade, and I had just switched over to bass clarinet from the regular soprano clarinet. I remember practicing for hours every day when I heard about it from my friends. 

On the day of the audition I felt overwhelmed in the practice room; it was my first time ever experiencing over 500 players in one room all playing at full blast. It was so loud that I couldn’t even feel my fingers as I was putting together my instrument. I don’t exactly remember what happened next; all I remember was that I was really down about how I performed. 

A few weeks later my band director called me into his office and shook my hand telling me I was the first person in the past 3 years who had made it into the honor band. 

My first year was an interesting one. I was the only one from my district in the county so I didn’t really know anyone. I ended up clicking with a couple of people who ended up becoming some close friends. 

My freshman year I tried out again. I wasn’t the most ecstatic to try out again especially since I knew no one trying out again, even the friends I had made from the previous year. I tried out and made it in again. This time I was the first person in 10 years or so to be a representative of Channel Islands  in VCHB. Once again, I was alone and had to meet more people. It was a fun year, but nothing truly stuck out to me.

My favorite year by far was my sophomore year. This was the first year I knew a group of people to hang out with plus the music was an absolute blast to play. The other bass clarinetists ended up becoming some of my best friends. We even held a reunion this past Sunday at the performance. We played many stellar selections, my favorites being the Olympic Fanfare and Candide. I had a blast just spending the little amount of time with what felt like a second family. 

Junior year was the year my passion for music started to taper off. I started to lose interest in the music because it didn’t feel as fun as it used to be. Despite this I still practiced as much as I could for the honor band. The audition music was less stressful during this year but I still spent hours with my tutor trying to make it sound as good as I could make it in the alloted time. Needless to say I made it in. Many of my friends from the previous year graduated, but that didn’t bother me as much since the people around me were very kind. It was kind of fun having my role expectation flipped by helping out underclassmen rather than being helped by an upperclassman. 

This year I tried out for the honor band once again and for the last time. This was probably the most unsure I was about making it into the band due to me leaving CI’s band the year prior. And this was the year I was most iffy about trying out. They lowered the skill ceiling, making the music pieces a lot easier to perform. This was evident when our all-state bass clarinetist got second place to our first year bass clarinetist. 

In terms of the actual program; although it was incredibly disorganized this year, it wasn’t as initially bad as I perceived it to be. The people I met were probably the kindest I have met through my 5 years in the band. The music personally wasn’t too fun to play, but it was an absolute joy to listen to. 

Overall, if I had the ability to start over from my freshman year, I probably would stop after the sophomore year since I felt like it was the peak of honor band. Regardless, I enjoyed each year in its own right and anyone interested should at least try it out one time in their band career.