They had practiced countless times. They all wanted to put forth their best effort. Some had the nervous jitters, but nevertheless they were prepared for their own version of March Madness, the annual district district Solo and Ensemble Festival.
Middle and high school students performed at Saturday’s event at Indian Trail High School and Academy. Some sang, some played instrumental solos and others performed as an ensemble. The festival is an opportunity for student musicians to put their practice and music ability to a test.
This year’s daylong district festival featured 1,300 events in 25 different sites throughout the school. The students performed before judges from the Wisconsin School Music Association with the hope that they would be selected as a a top performer with an opportunity to advance to the state festival in May at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.
“It’s a powerful experience for the kids. It’s just as if they were preparing themselves for a job interview,” said Scott Plank, the Kenosha Unified School District’s coordinator for fine arts. “It prepares them to make a presentation.”
The students competed on three different levels. They were judged by music professionals who graded and critiqued their performances, offering feedback on the spot.
While some students had to fight through nervous moments, others seemed more like experienced performers.
Liam Simpson, a Tremper High school freshman, began playing the french horn when he was in the fifth grade. When he was selected for the school band, he had a choice of playing the trombone or the french horn.
“I chose the french horn because no one else was playing it,” he said. He noted it was an instrument that would allow him to be more expressive.
Simpson played three selections, including one from Grammy award winner Eric Whitacre’s “Ghost Train.”
Another french horn player, Mitch Schroeder, an Indian Trail student, followed shortly afterward with three selections that were written for an orchestra.
Playing since he was in the fifth grade, he began practicing his selections last fall. One of his selections included a concerto by Russian composer Reinhold Gliere.
The festival was more than a musical experience for the student performers. It also gives the judges an opportunity to offer some words of encouragement and advice to the students.
“I heard some good music here today,” said Gary Hubber, a veteran percussion judge. “This was good. I like music, and I like kids. This event brought music and kids together. This is a new kind of March Madness.”