By Amanda Stickels, executive online editor

Sophomore Evan DeRicco walked over to the chair where he would be playing in the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) All-District Festival. There, he played alongside the top musicians in the district, which is comprised of schools from all around northeastern Illinois.

He noticed that his chair was at the end of the tuba section, immediately assuming he was last chair. However, the director soon told DeRicco that he would be playing the solo part, and only first chair plays the solo.

His mother, Sherri DeRicco, sitting in the audience, also assumed that Evan was last chair. As soon as the performance was over, Evan ran up to his mother, telling her the news. Sherri, unable to contain her emotions, started crying.

“I’m just so proud,” Sherri said. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Being the best tuba player in the district is a huge honor for Evan since Barnum said the district that Prospect participates in is one of the most competitive.

This also gives him an opportunity to take part in All-State band in January. This band is made up of the first-chair musicians from the nine band districts in Illinois. Formerly, ILMEA had a rule that only juniors and seniors could join All-State band but has since changed that, making Evan the first sophomore in Prospect history to be in the band.

“I didn’t really believe that I was first chair,” Evan said. “It kind of felt surreal because I didn’t think I should’ve been there because I was in front of seniors, and they’ve been doing this longer than me.”

Band director Chris Barnum explained that being in All-State band is just like being in any All-State in any sport and is also one of the highest individual honors one could get for band.

“Something like this, these IMEA auditions, is really about the individual students,” Barnum said.  “That means he’s putting in the time and working hard. He follows the advice that is given by his different teachers. … That’s really accredited to him more than anything else.”

When Evan signed up for band in fifth grade to join friends, he never imagined reaching this level. He began playing the trumpet but moved to tuba in sixth grade.

However, he hated practicing. Sherri said that not knowing how to play frustrated him. Each week he was supposed to record how many hours he practiced, but often, he would make up his hours.

It wasn’t until late seventh grade that Evan started seriously rehearsing. Motivated by an upcoming audition for the middle school ILMEA festival, he took private lessons and realized that he might want to continue band in high school.

Upon qualifying for the middle school ILMEA festival, he started playing outside of school for 30 to 45 minutes every day. This is when Evan’s passion for music grew. He said that music gives life to different emotions and can tell stories.

“I love how I can express myself through a means other than words with music,” Evan said.

Practicing for 60 to 90 minutes has become part of Evan’s daily routine. Barnum says that Evan’s hard work combined with natural talent has allowed him to achieve so much.

“He doesn’t try to draw a lot of attention to himself,” Barnum said. “He sort of just works hard, does what he needs to do, and obviously that hard work has paid off.”

Evan’s hard work did pay off during ILMEA auditions. Auditions consisted of going to Stevenson and playing a scale, slow etude — a short song — fast etude and sight reading.

The whole time, “don’t mess up” ran through Evan’s head as he played in each of the rooms. Afterwards, he was confident in his playing but still wasn’t sure if it was enough to be accepted into the festival.

“I was just a sophomore, and sophomores don’t really make it,” Evan said. “But I knew it was the best that I played it, and that’s what mattered to me.”

Band also applies to other aspects of Evan’s life. According to Sherri, the tuba taught Evan focus, discipline and hard work. It even affected his decisions about the future.

Evan plans to continue band all throughout high school and attend a college with a good music program, like Ohio State or Michigan State.

Eventually, he wishes to become a professional musician, hopefully playing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His mother acknowledges that this is a difficult feat, but Sherri believes that he has the dedication to achieve his goals.

“When he gets it in his head that he wants to do something or he can do something, he does it, and he succeeds at it,” Sherri said. “That’s just the way that he is.”