TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional High School Marching Band received two first-place awards in recent weeks to close out their season.

Music Director Jason Bielik's group of 64 students in grades 7 through 12 won first place in their division in both the New England Scholastic Band Directors Association competition on Nov. 2 and the Massachusetts State Marching Band finals on Oct. 27. The band also received both of these honors last year.

Bielik said the competitions were the culmination of the marching band's season, marking the end of six months of hard work.

Although he didn't have an expectation of how the band would place going into the competitions, he said the band has been steadily improving since he started the job seven years ago, and has reached a high point in skill this year.

"It's hard to say what you expect will happen, but how they performed at the end of the season was exactly how I expected them to perform. It's hard to know exactly what place you'll come in, but their performing was where I expected it to be," he said.

The band performed a show called "Rejoice," based on a work for chorus by English composer John Rutter.

"The music has been a favorite piece of mine for years, and I had always wanted to do it with the band. So this year I decided to go out on a limb and take the chance of doing all the music arranging by myself," Bielik said.

Unlike other schools, the North Middlesex marching band is a completely voluntary program for any interested student, and is not required for all band students. It also opens enrollment to interested seventh- and eighth-grade students.

"We start our marching band season the first week in May. We start before the previous school year ends and work all through the summer. It's a six-month process, with the philosophy that any student who wants to be a part will receive the training they need to get them to level that we want," Bielik said.

While Bielik said he is proud of his students' successes, he is continuing to push them to move forward with their skills.

"Our staff is really good about taking whatever level they're at and always trying to find where is the next level, what does the next step look like," Bielik said. "I think that the students are really aware of the concept that although we are proud of what they are doing, there will always be the next step or next level to go to."

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