An All-State great: Sam McGrath makes All-State band four years in a row


Sheri Curran

Sam McGrath poses alongside friend Ben Curran at the All-State band festival at Iowa State on Nov. 24, 2019.

Addi Steele, Photo Manager

High-school musicians across the state of Iowa spend their falls practicing and perfecting musical pieces in preparation for All-State auditions. This ensemble is highly-selective, with only a handful of students making it each year.

Senior Sam McGrath, however, has been selected for All-State band for the bass clarinet all four years of high school. He is only one of four people to do so in PV history. McGrath joins Ian Applington, class of 2016, Maureen Thomsen, class of 2016 and Eric Swanson, class of 2003, with his notable achievement.

McGrath began playing the clarinet in sixth grade because his parents required that both he and his brother play in the band for at least two years. He was drawn to the clarinet based on his positive experience with the recorder, and the similarities between the two instruments.

However, the clarinet was not all McGrath had hoped it would be – causing him to nearly quit band after seventh grade. His band career was salvaged after one of his friends switched to the bass clarinet, prompting him to do the same.

It was at this same time that McGrath’s seventh grade Solo Festival judge, Rob Miller, became determined to give him lessons. After starting the lessons, McGrath began to improve significantly. He continued on to join eighth-grade band, and the activity quickly became an important part of his life. “That is when I made SEIBA and IBA and started to realize that I could take this somewhere in high school,” McGrath explained.

Upon entering high school, McGrath was presented with a slew of new musical opportunities, like All-State band. Although there are many components – playing 12 major scales, the chromatic scale, a solo excerpt and 2-3 college-level etudes – McGrath was not deterred by challenge, but rather quite intrigued.

With hard work, motivation and dedication, McGrath successfully made All-State band all four years. “Every year is a challenge. The fact of the matter is, nothing is given,” he expressed. “Just because you made it the year before doesn’t guarantee that you will make it the next year.”

Drew Anderson, head band director, has seen these characteristics of McGrath firsthand and believes they have contributed to his success. He is very dedicated and works hard to continually improve as a musician and student from the time he started a band instrument,” Anderson said. “His inner drive is going to help him be successful in the future as well.”

McGrath attributed his success to those who have helped him along the way. “My success in high school wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the band directors,” McGrath commented. “However my success in the last 5 years can only be attributed to the efforts of my private lesson teacher, Rob Miller.”

McGrath’s four-year All-State achievement was definitely a highlight of his band career. “Overall, it has been a privilege to represent Pleasant Valley at the Iowa All-State band festival,” McGrath said.