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Students shine at All-State Music Festival

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | February 14, 2024 12:00 AM

The University of Montana hosted the 2023 MHSA All-State Music Festival last October. A remarkable number of Whitefish high school student musicians earned All-State honors: two from choir and five from the band program.

Four students were named to the American Choral Directors Association All Northwest Choir or Jazz Choir.

Musicians were provided with the sheet music about a month in advance of the festival. Whitefish high school band director Matthew King said the pieces are more difficult that what the high school classes usually tackle. The students practiced the music alone, on their own time.

Three of the five band students selected this year were sophomores, including clarinetist Ella Idleman. She explained that in the spring, when the sophomores were freshman, they submitted auditions to a panel of professional musicians to evaluate. 

“It consists of a few short pieces to play through, including a chromatic scale,” Idleman said.  “The point was to showcase our abilities to play in different styles, catch tricky rhythms and notes, and overall our skills to be placed in the band.”

The top students on each instrument were selected to play at the three-day All-State Music Festival in Missoula.

Upon arriving in Missoula, students spent two full days in rehearsals with guest conductor, Dr. Larry Gookin, Emeritus Professor of Music from Central Washington University. The culmination of the festival was a performance on stage at the University of Montana.

“(The festival is) very fast paced, lots of rehearsing, long days, but it's amazing what they accomplish in just two days,” King said. “They knocked it out of the park. Just a wonderful performance.”

He said the local musicians are incredibly strong.

Allison Abel, a senior who has played the bassoon, a large double reed instrument, for about six and a half years, played in a section with six other bassoon players. She said the years of practice paid off.

“The experience itself was amazing … and worth the effort,” Abel said. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to work with other musicians of a similar caliber who worked to be there and want to be there, making music together.”

King said the students compete with student musicians from all school sizes, Class C through Class AA and there is just one band, one orchestra and one choir for the entire state. King added that some of Whitefish’s students made it into sections as small as three players. He called the process “extremely competitive.”

“In Montana, it's a neat opportunity because we're so isolated in our different areas of the state. Students work so hard and they are leaders in their program but they may not realize how exceptional and how much they excel and then they get to go to things like this and represent our school but also be able to see that they stack up with the best players in the state.”

Sophomore trombonist, Bjorn Bungener, made the All-State Orchestra last year as a freshman and this year, made All-State again, this time as 2nd trombone, a special honor reserved for the top tier.

“The prospect of being an All-State musician was very attractive for me, so I put in a lot of work,” Bungener said.

Bungener’s work included not only practicing for hours with a variety of different musicians, but working on optimizing his breathing, something he said is important for playing a wind instrument.

“During my stay in Missoula, I was very impressed with the quality and dedication of all the  people involved with the project,” Bungener said. “All-State has really been an eye-opening experience for me, as it gave me a look into the world of the best of the best and motivated me in many ways.”

All-State bass clarinetist, sophomore Sasha Johnston, has been playing her instrument since sixth grade. While she enjoyed working hard to achieve the goal of All-State, she also enjoyed having fun at the event.

“I was pretty euphoric to find out I made it. It was a super enthralling experience to play with so many other musicians, and the music was absolutely amazing,” Johnston said. “One of the pieces in particular, California by David Maslanka, actually made me emotional just because of how beautiful and quiet it was at times. 

“On another note, it was really nice to spend time with my band peers and I got to make my own ‘rainbow waffles’ in the hotel with a glorious amount of sprinkles,” Johnston added.