OXNARD — Newbury Park's Sequoia Middle School band--decked out in neatly pressed, royal blue uniforms--had played these pieces dozens of times.
But for these youngsters and hundreds more like them, this was the most closely watched performance of their young lives.
Stern and stone-faced in the center bleachers of the gym sat three judges, catching every note the band played during the fourth annual Southern California School Band and Orchestra Assn. music festival.
"It gets your nerves working a little bit," said Sequoia eighth-grader Jeff Dokken, 13, who plays the euphonium. "But this is a good group of kids. We'll do all right."
And with that, Jeff and his bandmates hustled off for one last rehearsal before their 30-minute performance.
The event, being held Friday and today at Oxnard's Channel Islands High School, drew 35 private and public school bands from Lompoc to Burbank, including orchestras and wind ensembles from Camarillo, Ojai, Oxnard, Simi Valley and Ventura.
The judges gave each band a half-hour critique and a sight-reading exercise.
The junior high and high school bands had two minutes to look over new music and then perform it.
There are no winners or losers, but this is no place for thin-skinned musicians.
Judges rate the bands from poor to superior and single out individual musicians for criticism or praise.
"It's really neat being able to see and hear all of the other bands and see what faults we have and what qualities we have that are good," said Fabiola Manzo, 17, a Channel Islands High School flutist and drum major who plans to study music and computer science at Cal State Northridge next fall.
Still, she added, "The actual performance is very, very scary."
To Sequoia music teacher Karla Hoey, the festival forces her students to concentrate, prepare and play in a situation they are not accustomed to.
She really doesn't care how perfectly her students perform, she said. All that matters is that they do their best.
"They hear me talking all year long, and if the judges say the same thing I do, it makes me look like I know what I'm talking about," Hoey said. "And if they say something different, we all learn."
That seemed to be the prevailing theme Friday, as bands filed out of their buses at 11 a.m. and into the school gym until 11 p.m.
The festival, free to the public, continues today from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
"Music is just so important," said Maxine Gee of Oxnard, who came out to watch her grandson, James Turner, perform with the Ocean View Junior High School band. "This is super."
Sequoia parent Terry Perkin couldn't agree more. The event shows the huge amount of time students like her flute-playing daughter, Heather, must commit to master their instruments, she said.