The year 2013 saw the uninterrupted streak of successes for the Manta Ray Band, considered the island’s most popular music group composed of talented junior and senior students of Saipan Southern High School.
Its musical director and conductor, William DeWitt, couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments they’ve garnered in remarkable performances both here and abroad—bringing honor and prestige to the Public School System and the Commonwealth as a whole.
Just in 2013, Manta Band gave a dazzling performance at the 9th Annual Tumon Bay Music Festival where it earned 17 gold medals for individuals, small ensemble, and full ensemble performances. Since 2008, when the band made its debut at the competitive festival, the Manta Band has never been bested by another group in the high school band category, including at Carnegie Hall and the London Olympics. For two consecutive performance years in the competition, it was the recipient of the festival’s Sweepstakes Trophy—the highest recognition bestowed to a participant.
Since 2002, SSHS has been at the forefront of music education, with a fine arts focus as one of the core pillars of its mission. DeWitt said they have been blessed with the finest of students, parents, administrators, and teachers as they pursue a path of excellence, not just in the arts, but in the full spectrum of academic endeavors.
“It truly is an honor to represent the CNMI, our Southern High community, and the thousands of young student musicians who have enrolled in our music program over the past decade. As the leader and founder of the Manta Band, I couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments in music, academics, and life!” said DeWitt.
This year, the band’s ensembles have performed at numerous local events, including the PSS Music Festival, Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies, concerts at the American Memorial Park, Garapan Street Market, Paseo de Marianas, at Saipan Community School, various hotels, government offices including the Judiciary and Executive branches, as well special performances for the island’s elderly at the Aging Center. The Manta Ray Band, for many years now, has also been playing for the Liberation Day Parade.
“School year 2013 saw the continuation of an uninterrupted streak of successes for the Manta Band. Our ensembles have performed at numerous events and also competed at the 9th annual Tumon Bay Music Festival, adding to an impressive collection of overall awards and command performances, earning 17 golds in 2013 alone for individual, small ensemble, and full ensemble performances,” said DeWitt.
This year, the Manta Band is preparing for a monumental opportunity to compete in Japan and Korea against high school bands that are widely considered to be the world’s elite. The competition at this particular festival in Shizuoka is actually going to be tougher than anywhere the Manta Band has traveled thus far, according to DeWitt.
“The prestige associated with performing well at a Japanese festival surpasses even that of winning in London or New York, which is why most Japanese High School bands focus solely on winning their prefecture’s annual contest, rather than entering international ones,” he shared.
According to DeWitt, the invitation to perform and compete in Asia is the probably the most remarkable request the band members have ever received, given the rarity of foreign ensembles meeting their strict qualification requirements. For example, the Manta Band had to successfully pass an audition process to perform not only in the adjudicated event, but also for concerts during which no judging will take place.
“Whether or not we can muster the financial resources in time to make this dream a reality, being invited to the ‘Super Bowl’ of high school band contests nevertheless represents the crowning achievement of 2013!” he said.
Saipan Tribune was told that in addition to the 250-plus students enrolled in the beginning course, intermediate, advanced, and advanced II courses this school year, an explosion of smaller ensembles have emerged to augment the types of musical experiences available to these talented kids. There are numerous trios, quartets, and quintets featuring flutes, clarinets, saxes, trumpets, low brass, percussion, and blends of several instruments including oboe and bassoon.
For those who don’t know, the Mantas have even two rock bands. These small groups and individual soloists can be found performing at local establishments like Coffee and Jazz, The Coffee House, DFS, the Volcano Bar, etc. on a regular basis.