ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ELLYNNE WIEBE
During the next few weeks, the halls of Marion High School will be filled with song as both instrumental and vocal students prepare for upcoming regional and state competitions.
These students will be participating in the Regional Solo/Ensemble Contest held at Tabor College in early April, followed by the State Large Group contest April 10 in Lyons, and the State Solo/Ensemble contest in Manhattan April 27.
Adam White, MHS vocal music instructor, said, “We’re taking the maximum number of participants. We’ll have 20 solos and six small groups.”
At the large-group contest, the whole choir will perform, as well as both the boys’ and girls’ chorus.
According to Mike Connell, instrumental music instructor, eight instrumental soloists and two or three small ensembles will compete in the solo/ensemble contests. The full band will participate in the large group contest.
“The contests give students an opportunity to experience a different level of music,” Connell said. “They can pick more challenging music where they can be stretched.”
White added: “These events give us an opportunity to perform for professionals who evaluate performances for a living. We have a captive audience here in Marion. They love any performance we give. Contests give us the opportunity to show off our best effort and to be evaluated without personal bias.”
To prepare for competition, White said most vocal students study with a private teacher-either himself or one of three or four other instructors in Marion.
“They are able to concentrate on individual techniques and get personal attention,” he said. “But the students have to take that opportunity. It’s done outside of all class time.”
Connell sets aside time before and after school to work with instrumentalists.
“A big part of what I do is to challenge students to get the work done on their own,” he said.
Competing at this level provides students with the medium to stretch their abilities and to take risks, according to Connell.
“Competing provides a benefit to self-discipline, to use their musical imagination,” he said. “It’s a builder of self-confidence. Students learn self-reliance, to overcome self-doubts and fears.”
White said contests give students an opportunity to perform in a different setting than they normally encounter. They also are able to learn techniques that they don’t get in choir.
According to White, bringing home lots of “I” ratings is evidence of the success of Marion High School’s program.
“But it also helps to build the choir program,” White said. “It builds upon itself. If middle schoolers see the success of the high school program, they’ll want to contribute when they get to high school, too.”
Both White and Connell cite parental support as a key to the musical success MHS has experienced.
Said White: “In the ’70s, MHS had one of the best choirs around. Ken Forsythe, the director at the time, built a great choir program. The students in those choirs now have kids in our choir. So there’s lots of support.”
White also appreciates the support the choir program receives from administration.
“They’ve always been supportive and helpful,” he said. “I couldn’t say enough about them.”
One of the biggest hurdles both instructors encounter is student commitment to other activities.
White said most successful kids are successful in everything they do.
“But I’m not going to fight it,” White said. “I approve of it.”
White sees these commitments as beneficial in making students better people in the long run.
Connell said the commitment he expects from his students is sometimes problematic.
“I expect them to do their very, very best,” he said. “Sometimes that’s hard to get.”
While much emphasis can potentially be placed on receiving a “I” in competition, White said this is not the goal of his program.
“We do get caught up in it sometimes,” he said, “but a ‘I’ should be seen as the result of a good program, not the goal.”
He said a “I” is given for an outstanding performance with few technical errors and should exemplify a truly musical experience.
“So we set our standard at presenting a truly outstanding performance, a truly musical experience,” he said.
White said he has many outstanding students going to these contests.
He expects senior Andrew Brookens to fare well in competition this year.
“He got a ‘I’ at state in both tuba and vocals last year. I’m pretty sure he’ll get a ‘I’ again,” White said.
The school’s select group, MHS Singers, is also expected to do well.
“This year our concert choir is young, so we’ll have to see,” White said.
In 2001, the MHS choir received a I for the first time in 19 years. White credits last year’s success to the encouragement of several seniors.
Connell expects the band, soloists and small ensembles to do their very best.
“To be successful,” he said, “you have to go into the situation as prepared as you can possibly be, so that’s what we’re teaching them.”
In addition to preparing for competitions this spring, musicians at MHS are also busy preparing their spring musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Performances will be this Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m.
Sporting a larger cast than in recent years, White said it will be a fun show.
“It’s challenging for high school kids,” White said. “There’s a lot of emotional content.”
White is also working on a pops concert and a Marion community and high school concert for which dates are still pending.
The MHS band has two very special concerts approaching, as well.
“We received an invitation from Kansas State University to perform a concert with the Kansas State University Symphonic Winds,” Connell said.
They will be performing four selections prior to the concert by the KSU group. The concert will take place this evening, March 13, on the KSU campus.
Another invitation was also received for a similar engagement with the Friends University Symphonic Wind Ensemble on April 4.
“These audiences will be expecting a high level of performance,” Connell said. “It’s a real honor for the kids.”