Ketchikan High School doubled its student population this past week, welcoming about 600 music students from 11 Southeast Alaska schools for the annual MusicFest event.
Kayhi choral director Trina Purcell, in her office on Monday morning, said the three-day event ran smoothly, thanks to all of the pre-planning she and Kayhi music director Deidra Nuss had done. This was their third time planning the MusicFest at Kayhi together.
Purcell’s first priority was to stress how grateful she was to the people who helped them to make the event a success.
“Thank you to everyone in the community who helped with housing, and all the parents who helped,” she said.
MusicFest is hosted by Ketchikan, Juneau and Sitka on a rotating yearly schedule, Purcell said.
Each day of the event begins with two hours of solo and ensemble adjudication. Students perform in three allotted rooms for adjudicators and a small audience of their peers in 10-minute time slots.
Adjudicators were Randy Bjur — previously a Kayhi music teacher — now living in Kennewick, Washington; Camille Kingman-Killpack, a music teacher at Orem Junior High School in Orem, Utah; Tim Shade, of Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas; and Brett Taylor, choir director at Mountain View High School in Orem, Utah.
“All these kids flood in to watch it,” Purcell said, not only to support the performer, but to learn from the performance and the adjudicator’s feedback.
“Everybody gets to learn from the process,” Purcell said.
Unique to Southeast Alaska, she added, is that the process of adjudication is non-competitive.
“The adjudicators always, every year, just marvel at ‘Wow, this doesn’t happen anywhere else, this is amazing and people are making music just for the sake of making music,’” Purcell said. “It makes us really proud.”
She added, “Southeast — it’s just the culture.”
While adjudication was proceeding, Purcell said the jazz groups were in the auditorium doing sound checks in preparation for the daily mid-morning concert held for the students and community members.
The performances also were adjudicated. The judges made comments on the Garageband app as the performances were held. After the performances, the musicians gathered in Kayhi’s green room to hear feedback from the adjudicators.
In the afternoons during the event, an array of three-hour clinics were offered that the students could choose from. They included a dance clinic with Studio Max teacher Christian Lorenzo, an art-with-music clinic with artist Loren McCue and a strings clinic with musician Chazz Gist. Adjudicators also taught clinics, such as “Conducting 101,” and “Getting over Performance Anxiety.”
Purcell said she was extremely proud of how well the Kayhi students performed at MusicFest this year.
“You have to know this is the best you’ve done,” she said she told her students.
Three Kayhi students — Andrea Short, a senior who plays clarinet and sings with the concert and jazz choirs; sophomore Katori Young, who sings with the concert and jazz choirs; and junior Connor Wodehouse, who plays trombone in jazz band and wood ensemble, and also sings with the concert and jazz choirs —on Monday morning shared their experiences in MusicFest this year.
“It’s always really cool when we host,” Short said, “because we’re so much more involved in running the shows, and talking to the adjudicators and clinicians, and we do so much more — but it makes it that much more fun to do, in a way. It’s stressful, but it’s fun.”
She had a message for community members.
“Next time we host it, at least pop in once and just see it,” she said. “I feel like a lot of adults don’t understand how much work we put into MusicFest, and they think, ‘Oh, it’s just three days of concerts,’ but, no. It’s us performing at least once — there’s a jazz concert, there’s an evening concert that lasts, like, three hours. There’s clinics, we sit in solos and ensembles in the mornings; there’s so much more involved than ‘Look at us, we’re playing music.’”
Young added, “I was waking up at 4:00 in the morning, getting six kids ready, leaving the house by 6:00, getting here by 7:00, then getting back home at 11:00.”
“From 8:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night, it’s go, go, go,” Wodehouse said, adding, “but it was worth it.”
Young and Short agreed.
Wodehouse said he was told by one of the directors that he loves MusicFest when it’s hosted by Ketchikan, “because we bring it up a level, and we keep it professional and we keep it smooth.”
Young said, “I got to talk one-on-one with each director and each adjudicator, and hearing their comments on their own choirs and bands and on other people’s too. It was really interesting to see how their minds worked, different from how the students saw it.”
Short echoed Purcell’s appreciation for Southeast’s approach.
“Music festivals down south are much more of a competition,” Short said. “Especially Southeast Alaska — it’s a community, it’s a celebration of music and what it really can bring us together for.”
“Any rivalries that you have with schools for sports are completely gone when it comes to music,” Short said.
The group shared the story of Craig’s music program borrowing Kayhi percussionist Ezrie Anderson so that Craig would be able to participate in the event, as an example of that spirit of cooperation.
Wodehouse added, “We’re all about taking things away — not necessarily prizes, but, like, lessons and things we can do to keep improving, so that next time they show up, we’re better than before.”
Another benefit of MusicFest is “you get to meet people that you never would have expected yourself to be friends with,” Young said.
“Or, reconnect with old friends,” Short added. Then, laughing, she said, “You will always find a fellow band nerd.”
Young said that the process of adjudication, where they receive abundant advice and feedback, will bolster their futures.
“We can take what the adjudicators are teaching us and then put it forth to other aspects of our music careers,” she said.
All three students agreed that they plan to pursue careers in music.
When asked why they’ve found music to be such a central part of their school experience, they had a lot to say.
“It’s a community,” Young said. “Ketchikan itself is always really supportive of, like, sports and stuff, and the music department here, at least, is really supportive of each other. It’s a good way to get out into the community as well.”
She added, “You meet amazing people, you get opportunities for so many different things.”
“You learn some great life lessons,” Wodehouse said.
Wodehouse also had a more global view.
“All around the world, musicians are musicians, and musicians will get together and they will make music,” he said.
Young added, “Music — it seems to bring people together and studies show that it lessens anxiety and there’s just a lot of benefits to it.”
The trio agreed on their favorite performers at the event: The Haines “man choir,” featuring six male singers.
“They’re fantastic,” Wodehouse said, as Young and Short grinned and nodded.
Wodehouse said some of the most fun highlights of the event for him were in a clinic run by Clare Bennett and Elizabeth Nelson of First City Players. The clinic featured games meant to break the ice and loosen up creativity. Young and Short said they really enjoyed that too, even though Young said, laughing, “I walked away from that clinic with bruises.”
Young said she was impressed, watching the directors at the event as they handled the workload. She would see them sit down, take a deep breath, but then “afterwards, seeing how proud they were of what Kayhi could accomplish.”
The most difficult aspect of such a big event for Short, was “the whole prep and buildup to MusicFest,” she said. “We start preparing music almost immediately after Christmas break, and it all leads up to three days in April, and it’s done. It’s always more hard pieces, it’s always in another language, and there’s more music and it’s harder parts and harmonies and it’s three months of working so hard, that, at some point you’re going to mess it up.”
They all agreed participating in MusicFest is more of a challenge than the regional meets.
“But, then there’s that whole satisfaction of getting it right on stage, that makes it so worth it,” Short said. “Sitting in the green room waiting for the adjudicator afterwards, going ‘We did it. Oh my goodness, we did it.’”