Middle school bands join in massive event

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

Monday marks a massive day for area middle school musicians, as concert bands merge for the Mass Band festival.

Five school bands will gather for the first time Monday morning at Kenai Central High School to practice four works of music chosen by guest conductor Dave Schmidt. For the weeks leading up to the festival, the bands have been practicing those pieces — or so Schmidt hopes.

The conductors from Soldotna Middle, Kenai Middle, Cook Inlet Academy, Chapman and Nikiski schools collectively chose Schmidt as the guest clinician, due in part to his 20 years of experience being a conductor in the area.

Kenai Middle School conductor Deborah Sounart said the first part of the concert will be two songs from each band. After an intermission, the 145 musicians will play the four chosen by Schmidt.

"I've been here a thousand years, so I know where their level is. I chose a mix of pieces that will fit that level. There is a march, a slow piece, a suite and an arrangement of cartoon symphonies, which will be the hardest piece. But they should enjoy it," Schmidt said.

He said the music is hard enough that it will be challenging and something the kids can learn from.

"The first thing we'll do is try to get through things without falling apart, but hopefully things will gel, and if everyone is prepared enough, we'll talk about the insight with what the composer was thinking, or what they had in mind when they wrote the piece and the cultural differences in different songs.

"I want to show how music is more than just black spots on a page, that it can be brought to life," he said. "Hopefully, the kids will take away a love for the music."

Practically speaking, another one of Schmidt's goals is to get the students to listen to the entire band.

"To be spread out with such a large number of kids will be something many kids have never done before, so the challenge is to spread out the listening skills and get them involved," he said.

What Schmidt enjoys most about the festival is the atmosphere it creates, he said. While the stress and pressure of band competitions can be too much for young performers, Schmidt said Mass Band is a low stress kind of event.

"Without the pressure of a contest, you're at liberty to be creative. This is a whole bunch more laid-back — and that's a good thing," he said.

"My favorite part of this is interacting with the kids, but what I miss most is that time just before the performance when you are fine tuning. We'll have fun trying to make it perfect, or almost perfect."

Sounart said the event is a good opportunity for the community to see the progress of the bands.

"It's quite an event when it all comes together," she said.

Schmidt also is jazzed about the show.

"I hope a lot of people come, because it's going to be fun," he said.

The students will work on the four pieces all day Monday to be ready for the 6:30 p.m. performance at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at KCHS. For the program, Schmidt chose "March on the King's Highway," by Pierre Le Plante; "Balladaire," by Frank Erickson; "Cartoon Symphony," arranged by Larry Clark; and "Three Kentucky Sketches," by John O'Reilly.

Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for youth. Proceeds will go the Kenai Peninsula Borough to offset the transportation costs for the bands traveling to the festival.

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