Striking the highest note

Tuesday, January 31, 2006
The Jackson High School band performed at its school on Wednesday. (Diane L. Wilson)

There's not that many people here.

The thought registered in 16-year-old Amanda Myer's mind as she picked up her flute and began warming up for the night's work.

She was wrong.

By the time Myer and the rest of the Jackson High School wind symphony band finished practicing and began to play Friday night, about 1,000 people made up a standing-room only crowd at Tan-Tar-A resort in Osage Beach, Mo. -- the host of the Missouri Music Educators Association's annual conference.

"It was awesome seeing all those people and knowing they wanted to watch us," said Myer, a junior at Jackson.

This was Jackson High School's first year to be selected to play at the state conference -- an honor most consider the highest in Missouri for high school and college-level musical groups.

Vocal and instrumental groups from around the state submit recorded performances each summer to the association. An out-of-state panel of judges selects which schools will perform at the annual conference the following January based on those submissions.

Tom Broussard, one of four band directors at Jackson, led students in a concert Wednesday at the high school.

The conference, which offers workshops and other educational opportunities, attracts about 1,000 music educators each year. Those attendees make up the majority of the audience during the conference's concerts, which only adds to the pressure to perform well.

"You have to play very demanding literature, tunes that really challenge and show off what a band can do," said Jackson band director Scott Vangilder.

The 60 students who make up Jackson's band played four songs that have not been performed often at the conference -- "Fantasia in G," "Concertino for Four percussion," "Molly on the Shore" and "Shortcut Home."

Jackson instrumental music teacher Tom Broussard said the concert was a chance to raise the level of performance expectation for the band.

"We weren't just playing for three judges, like we do at the state competition, we were basically playing for 1,000 judges," Broussard said. "And not only did we represent Jackson, we represented all of Southeast Missouri up there."

The students spent extra time practicing in the weeks leading up to the conference, on top of the 45 minutes to an hour most spend playing each day anyway.

The work was worth it though for most of the band members.

"It was a neat experience, especially playing for parents and all of the other band directors and showing what Jackson can do," said Sarah Hinkebein, an 18-year-old senior who plays the trumpet.

A school can only apply to perform at the conference once every four years.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, even as directors," said Vangilder. "Because there's no guarantee you'll ever do this again."

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