Area schools prepare for district music festival


BRATTLEBORO — Area high school students are preparing for a big music festival coming up.

"A great thing that happens through the Vermont Music Educators Association in six different parts of the state are regional music festivals that the best students from the middle school and high school participate in. A lot of times, it's vocal music and wind instrumentals. Some places have strings as well," said Riley Goodemote, music teacher and high school band director at Leland & Gray Union High School. "We have four students in the band. For a small school, that's pretty good. That's more than we've had in a number of years."

The host school changes but two district festivals are held each year. Musicians from Windham and Windsor counties will perform at the District Six Fall Music Festival on Nov. 20 and 21 at Brattleboro Union High School. They rehearse for a day and a half before the big concert, where concert bands, jazz bands and choirs will be heard.

On Nov. 21, the high school concert will begin at 5 p.m. with the middle school concert starting at 3 p.m. Karen Lavoie, who directs bands at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, will be the guest conductor.

BUHS Music Department Chairman Steve Rice said Oct. 28 was the first day students from his school rehearsed the material. Twenty-one students from his school will be in the 58-member band, while six students will perform in the choir. They had auditioned at Dummerston School.

"You get your music in advance and generally you prepare with Mr. Rice or your music teacher," said BUHS senior Molly Schoales, who plays horn.

"You have to have eight scales memorized," said Isaac Freitas-Eagen, an alto saxophone player and sophomore at BUHS. "Then after that, you have sight reading. You have to read it without having any difficulties."

Schoales said sight reading gets easier as you get older. She looks forward to festivals as they are often the only time she gets to play with other horn players. Last year, she was the only student member of the horn section. Rice joined her for the performance.

"Not that I don't like playing but I like talking to the other people," said Meara Seery, a sophomore trumpet player at BUHS.

During down time at the festival, Rice said there's a lot of socializing. That's how new friendships are formed.

BUHS junior Liam Reynolds, who will be singing in the district jazz chorus, said recordings are available online to assist in solo practices. A chorus teacher also helps with understanding how to approach the music as a group and adding the "finishing touches."

Rice said his instrumentalists use a program to practice. But during auditions, they're left unaccompanied.

"So it was a little bit tricky for them to go in and just play it," said Rice.

The district music festival audience is largely made up of parents. Rice said BUHS' auditorium is usually pretty filled, leaving many performers without seats. The school last hosted the festival two years ago.

"We try to schedule it so that the kids who were in the concert band can listen to the dress rehearsal of the jazz choir because they won't actually get to hear them perform," he said. "This is the sort of concert where the extended families may be more likely to come. We see more grandparents or aunts and uncles come for this concert than school concerts. The family may view this as a bigger deal or bigger honor."

The district festivals were part of public school programs for 75 years or so, according to Rice. His school was part of this specific district for the last 25 years. It is referred to as the Connecticut Valley District, featuring students from schools as far north as White River Junction and Woodstock then as far west as Twin Valley, Leland & Gray and Ludlow. Before, Brattleboro was part of a different district. The district concerts were going strong for as long as Rice can recall and he has taught at BUHS since 1987. He is heading to Essex this month to direct another district's band. He has conducted at seven or eight other district festivals in the past.

Another district festival is scheduled for February, then there's the all-state concert. The fall concert can be looked at as the start of the festival season, Rice said.

Finding a school with enough space for four ensembles to rehearse can be a challenge, Rice pointed out. That's why BUHS is chosen for the fall festival about every other year. The high school has a bigger facility than other area schools and Brattleboro Area Middle School can be used for rehearsal as needed.

Leland & Gray has freshman Fairen Stark and junior Felix Judd-Wright playing flute in the concert band.

"It's really competitive," said Stark, who previously participated in the middle school district band during both seventh and eighth grade. "It's so great because everyone's super dedicated."

Leland & Gray sophomore Karson Petty will play trombone and senior Gregory Holland will play string bass.

Leland & Gray freshman Gabrel Vanni-Phillips, who was accepted into the district jazz chorus along with senior Susie Francy, junior Emma Urbaska and freshman Sarah Andersen, said no matter how many times he has performed in the festivals, somewhere under his skin he will be terrified.

"I'll be deathly scared," he said. "For me, it's not meeting new people. It's wanting to make sure I don't mess up or make sure I was prepared enough."

Bellows Falls Union High School has 17 students playing in the district band while five were accepted into the district jazz choir.

"We were really thrilled to have 17 students accepted into the band this year," said Nicholas Pelton, BFUHS music teacher. "Strangely enough, this was the exact same number we had last year as well. Due to the fact that we are fortunate enough to have students representing all sections of the band, this allows us to have pretty functional ensemble rehearsals on this music. The students will come together for three Wednesday evening rehearsals to rehearse the music prior to the festival."

BFUHS Choral Director Mary Westbrook-Geha said each student received a folder of music with four selections. Currently, her students are learning the songs in anticipation of the festival.

"When they arrive for first rehearsal on Friday, they need to know all of their pitches and rhythms," she said, adding that the students must be ready to work to bring the music to performance level before the Saturday afternoon concert.

Twin Valley Middle High School will see two students singing with the middle school district chorus.

"The district chorus offers a different experience for choristers as the two-day festival is very intense and crammed packed with singing for two entire days, which culminates in a concert at the end of the second day," said Sue Maddern, Twin Valley choral director. "Twin Valley students have been taking part in these district festivals for the last twenty plus years as musicians in jazz choir, chorus, middle school chorus, jazz band, and middle and high school concert bands."

Contact Chris Mays at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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