Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 17, 2010

Stage of talent

Area’s best young musicians perform

By MIKE JAMES - The Independent

ASHLAND--The typical school band spends months practicing the selections for a concert, honing their skills and polishing their performance.

A select group of young musicians, 100 of them from high school bands and the other 100 from middle school, did the whole thing in two days.

The occasion was an annual concert organized by the Kentucky Music Educators Association, which chose the performers from the cream of school bands in 14 counties for its district band concert.

The annual event is not a competition, but students do audition to be a part of it, said Kevin Christie, KMEA’s district 8 band chair and the band director at Rowan County High School.

The chosen musicians gather for two days of intense rehearsal with guest conductors and then perform that weekend. This year’s group played at the Paramount on Saturday.

The middle school group played under the direction of Morehead State University’s associate director of bands Susan Creasap and the high school director was Wayne Markworth, retired as band director at Centerville, Ohio, High School.

The concert is a crowd-pleasing showcase, but the gifted and motivated young players thrive on the two-day whirlwind of rehearsal.

Ask any of them what they want for themselves from the weekend and you will get variations on three simple words: “to get better.”

“Everyone is trying to practice hard because we want to do the best we can do,” said flautist Christian Riley, a Paul Blazer High student. Midway through the day-long rehearsal Friday she already sensed improvement in her work with the group, she said.

The quest for excellence is built into the weekend. The players get to work with other talented student musicians and with guest directors who are tops in their profession, playing more challenging music, Christie said.

And the music is challenging, the musicians say. “We have pieces that go from long and pretty to short and marchy,” said Jennifer Blankenship, who plays the bassoon and attends Boyd County High School.

Students from smaller schools get the rare opportunity to play with a larger group.

A shared love of music and the intense rehearsal schedule shapes a stage full of strangers into a cohesive whole. “They have a sense of community,” Christie said. Or as Blankenship explained, “I get to play with people who love to play as much as I do.”

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2652.