Music festivals have a long standing tradition and respected history in the state of Wisconsin through the guidance of the Wisconsin School Music Association.
Dating back to 1932, the term “contest” was used for music activities associated with solo and ensemble events in the public schools. Around 1985 there was a move to change the term “contest” to “festival” due to the lack of competition associated with the event.
Schools were not competing against each other. Rather, students were striving for excellence on their own merit. The term “festival” has been used in both solo/ensemble and large group music activities in the schools ever since.
The mission statement of the WSMA states: “To ensure that all students have opportunities which encourage lifelong involvement in music, the Wisconsin School Music Association will provide statewide music programming activities, offer leadership and support for school music programs, and advance music as an integral part of the school curriculum and community life.”
Students who prepare for a music festival performance spend months practicing and rehearsing for the one-time event that may or may not end in a trip to the state festival to be held later this month. Music teachers begin the selection of music for their students long before the spring festival. They look for a solo or ensemble piece that will be educationally challenging and provide a growth experience for each individual student in their music performance classes.
The selection begins from a prescribed list of music categorized into three levels: Class C is the easiest (for younger or new members to the ensemble), Class B is more challenging, and Class A is the most difficult music. Many of the Class A pieces are at the level professionals perform in concert halls around the world.
To prepare any level of music, students begin practicing about four months prior to the festival. Weekly lessons are offered at the high school level for Platteville students. This is a time for the teacher to refine skills, teach new techniques, and interpret the music with the individual.
Our technology-based society has afforded the opportunity for students to search for live performances of their pieces to better enhance the understanding and interpretation of the vast literature available. Platteville High School also has the Smart Music computer integrated practice tool as assistance to their preparation.
On average, students spend several hours a week practicing their instrument and honing their skills. Like an athlete preparing for a race or sporting event, to prepare a class A six- to eight-minute solo for performance level, it is a necessity to build the ‘muscle’ for endurance to perform. Herein lies the need for months of preparation.
The district festival for Platteville High School students was held on Saturday. Beginning the week prior to the school spring break and the week following break, adult accompanists began rehearsing with the students. We are fortunate in Platteville to have a pool of talented accompanists that come into the schools to rehearse with the students.
This year, Platteville entered 165 of the 360 events scheduled for the festival. Of those 165 events, 140 required accompaniment. Ten accompanists rehearsed early morning, during the school day and into the evening to work with students — many thanks should go to Terry Dillon, Elizabeth Duewer, Tim Durst, Terri Ellis, Kelsey Erickson, Nancy Fairchild (in kind), Bobbie Glendenning, Jill Hasker, Jeff Schoonover, and Rob Shepherd for their musical talents.
The Platteville Music Boosters provided more than $2,000 in payment for these services.
Music teachers from Platteville, Lancaster, Prairie du Chien, Dodgeville and Viroqua submitted an online registration form entering each event for their school for the 2013 festival. The computer program generates a mini-rubric with the student information, what event, the accompanist name, and the title of the music. The festival manager then “plays cards” with these mini forms to determine the order of events and the sites where these events will take place.
Vocal music teacher Amelia Armstrong and festival manager Nancy Fairchild spent several hours sorting the cards taking into consideration that a student and accompanist can’t be in two places at once. Several students then read the forms to check for overlap in individuals and accompanists. In all, the scheduling takes about 10 hours of time to complete.
A plethora of behind-the-scenes activities takes place prior to the actual date. Spacious rooms that can accommodate instrumentalists, vocalists and at least one grand piano need to be reserved well in advance of the date. A piano tuner is hired to tune the pianos. This generally takes about two hours per piano.
Music stands, chairs and tables are requested for use throughout the day. Directional signs are posted throughout the building. Our host facility this year was reserved through the Performing and Visual Arts Department, the University Police and the Physical Plant crew at UW–Platteville. A special thanks goes to Dan Fairchild and Larry Pink for their assistance with our festival.
The Music Boosters, under the guidance of Sharon Pink, organize and purchase items for the concession stand. Several carloads of soda, water, ice, coffee, juice, pizza, submarine sandwiches, candy, fruit and cookies arrive early in the morning to be ready to feed traveling schools and participants.
Proceeds from the sales is directed back to the schools in the form of accompanist support, and scholarships to students.
The extensive list of volunteers includes Therea Kaiser, Ginger Hoyer, E.J. Kruser, Jacob Brunette, Anne Donovan, Rachel Rowley, Brian Miesen, Corky Phillips, Shelly Page, Becka Craugh, Tud Bowden, Bill Day, Kaitlynn Niehaus, Michael Taschner, Mitzi Herber, Chris Lange, Brenda Schwarzmann, and many parents who just show up to offer their assistance when they see the need.
To keep the festival running smoothly and on time, information desk people, door monitors, and room monitors keep track of performers at each of the eight performance sites. Anne Otto, Sierra Becke, Maria Bast, Emily Roberts, Amanda Zasada, Emma Cleveland, Martha Schaefer, Jannan Roesch, Sue Musarra, Tammy Greenlee, Jason Schlarmann, Barb Barnet, Bridget Wilson, Mike Hahn, Stephanie Cooley, Sally Woodworth, Marcia Russell, Kyle McWilliams, Emily Moore, Caitlyn McMahon, Kathryn Carter, Amy Carter, Rachael Schaefer, Matthew Schaefer, Elizabeth Roberts, Nick Demaree, Sophie Burton, Ryan Pink, Bill Sefton, and Abby DeYoung for volunteering their time. Volunteers were coordinated by Denise Roberts and Marcia Russell.
Adjudicators are selected and hired through the state WSMA office. These judges are trained and certified in the rubric scoring guides every five years. Following each performance, they give verbal and written comments on the rubric form.
These forms are then verified in a central headquarters. Operating the headquarters this year were Sara and Calvin Koeller and Dan Fairchild. The forms are verified for accuracy, scores entered into the computer program mentioned earlier and then posted for students to review their results.
Ratings in all classes are between one and five with a one being the highest rating. Only in class “A” are students eligible to advance to the state level, but must receive a “One Star” to do so. Performances at the “one star” level are of the highest caliber generally performing at a professional level.
Platteville High School has a 10-year history of sending between 45 and 55 events to the state level. The state festival for our portion of the state encompasses schools from the Madison area to just south of La Crosse, with about 80 schools being represented.
For the past 24 years, the state festival has been at UW–Platteville occupying five buildings on the last Saturday of April. There are probably more than 2 million beautiful notes performed on this date.
This year is no different for Platteville as 49 events advanced to state on April 27. Those 41 students advancing to state include Emma Bryla, Arianna Day, T.J. Koeller, Tom Lambert, Minjoo Son, Rachael Demaree, Francesca Bisi, McKenzie Scanlan, Grace Kronick, Amie Carter, Becka Craugh, Bea Line, Stephanie Momot, Caitlyn McMahon, Mattea Scanlan, Danielle Dillon, Justin Phillips, Rachel Lueder, Vince Momot, Blake Butson, Joseph Dillon, Jordan Stombaugh, William Cooley, Adam Roberts, Hannah VanNatta, Caitlin Acierno, Emma Wilson, Tom Hubl, Tristan Hirsch, Ryan Pink, David Ababio, Stephanie Philipps, Erin Bowden, Ben Hasker, Vivian Li, David Hahn, Molly Lingel, Angela Drefcinski, Laura Donovan, Kevin Donovan, and Wade Roberts.
It takes many hours of practice, many lessons, and many volunteers to make this one-day event become a reality. It takes a lifetime to appreciate the efforts and drive for excellence that students of music can take with them when they leave Platteville High School. The next time you hear a young student perform music in public, remember what it takes.