Here in Illinois, we have Big Northern Conference, an organization of high schools in adjacent counties that highlights extracurricular activities in events every year. There’s one for sports like football and basketball, band and choir, as well as an art show. It was established in the early 90s, as a merger of the Big 8 Conference and the Mid-Northern conference. Since the initial merging, some schools have withdrawn, and others have joined in their place. Currently, there are 14 high schools that make up BNC, but some schools are debating whether to withdraw or not. My school has been involved in it from the beginning, and it’s pretty noticeable in the sheer amount of Big Northern banners in the auditorium.
For choir, it’s when schools round up the best of the best and send them to a host school. Once at the host school, those students assemble as a gigantic choir and rehearse several songs that they perform later in the night. Performers and their choir instructors receive the music a month or so in advance, but until everyone arrives on the day of the performance and sings it together, there’s no telling what it will sound like. There’s always things to improve, especially since the choir doesn’t practice as a whole until the day of the performance. Personally, the stress of trying to perfect the songs on such a time constraint is what makes BNC so fun.
This year, I attended BNC for choir. Usually, the music students are provided with a bus to transport us to the host school. However, this year, our athletic director forgot to get us a bus, so we were stuffed onto the only one our choir director is licensed to drive. My choir teacher wasn’t notified until the week of the performance, and, boy, did that make for quite the rant. The vehicle we were provided with was one of those short buses, with about 14 seats, and my choir director is–and this is putting it lightly–an insane driver. I don’t think my body maintained solid contact with that seat through out the entire ride there. It was, in every sense, a wild ride.
Once we arrived (finally), my fellow choir members and I were escorted to the host school’s theatre to begin running through our songs. As is tradition with BNC, our guest director was a professional that teaches at a local college. Personally, her style of directing wasn’t what I’m used to, but it was a good educational experience. When you’re practicing with people that have been taught by someone else than you have, you learn from them, too. The girl that sat to my left had different techniques for projecting her voice, and I adopted some of her habits during practice. The preparation went on for about 5 hours, with 10 minute breaks every couple hours. Dinner was provided for performers, and after shortly after everyone ate, the concert began.
The Big Northern Music Festival follows the same basic schedule every year, but the host school is always different. And just as the school changes every year, so does the guest director. It’s a great event, and it offers kids the chance to meet people with similar interests and perform with them. Many of the students that attend make friends there, and a lot of those kids stay friends, since most of them go to BNC every year. It’s a constant in a lot of these kids’ lives, and we look forward to it each year.
Also, in an area where football is the center of our universe, BNC plays a big part of our football community. In fact, my school and 3 others completely dominated the team in 2012. The BNC West team was made up of exclusively players from Winnebago High School, Rockford Lutheran, Stillman Valley High, and Byron High School. Big Northern is a way for schools to show off their students in way that doesn’t reduce them to test scores.