By Tom Brown
More than 400 of the state’s most talented student musicians will soon converge on Central Vermont to take part in the 92nd annual All-State Music Festival. Montpelier and U-32 high schools will co-host the four-day event, which kicks off with a parade in downtown Montpelier at 6 pm on Wednesday, May 8, followed by four concerts at U-32, from May 8 to 11.
The student participants all earned their way to the big dance of scholastic music by passing through competitive, individual auditions, but during the festival, it’s all about collaboration. The students have just a few rehearsal days to pull together their performances in band, orchestra, chorus, or jazz, in a sort of hyper-compressed version of band camp.
The individual honor of being selected from more than 1,000 applicants is significant, but it’s the camaraderie of playing with talented peers from around Vermont that makes the hours of practice worthwhile, one four-time all-state participant says.
“The reward for all the work is to actually get to go to the festival because it is a fantastic experience,” said Eleanor Braun, a senior from Montpelier who plays double bass and qualified for All-State in all four years of high school. “It’s so much fun. You get to play with a ton of people from all over Vermont who are really good at playing their instrument, and you get to meet music people from everywhere. I think that’s really cool.”
The students also get to play with a full orchestra with guest conductors such as Dr. Ronald Feldman, a professor of music at Williams College who served as assistant conductor to John Williams and the Boston Pops, among other achievements. No word whether Williams’ Darth Vader’s theme is among the scheduled pieces.
As hosts, the two schools are responsible for programs, T-shirts, facilities, and, perhaps most challenging, providing housing for hundreds of visiting musicians. U-32’s music teachers Roger Grow, Anne Decker, and David Powelson are dealing with much of the performance logistics for the festival. Grow said it was not easy to round up the 200 chairs, 150 music stands, and numerous choral risers needed for the event.
There are 230 students in the chorus,” he said. “It’s like a giant puzzle.”
MHS music teacher, Hillary Goldblatt said the parade through Montpelier will feature about 30 or 40 middle and high school marching bands, highlighted by Montpelier’s own Solon Samba drummers, led by MHS music teacher Kirk Kreitz (Molly Clark is the other MHS music educator). Goldblatt said spectators won’t see traditional uniformed marching bands; rather, she said, the students tend to “take a much more creative approach” for the parade.
Goldblatt, who has taught at MHS for 12 years and has seen about 50 All-State musicians emerge from her class, said music is an integral part of the human experience, and it is rewarding to see so many students find success and satisfaction through singing, composing, and playing at the All-State level.
“It’s just great to see students get to such a high level that they put all their skills together and have an expressive capacity with their music and just really derive enjoyment out of getting to such a high level,” she said. “I first met Eleanor when she was in fourth grade and she had never picked up a bass. Nine years later she’s still my student. It’s amazing to witness students on their paths from children to young adults in a continuous stretch, and especially how their lives are enriched by music over time.”
The music festival is an opportunity for these high-performing musicians to come together around a shared interest and share a moment in the spotlight, the teachers said.
“No matter how good a small music program is, you are still dealing with a wide range of students in your classroom,” Grow said. “These are the best of the best, and to be in an ensemble with that number of kids who are really top flight and really want to be there and wanting to work hard with a great conductor makes certain that the performances are always fantastic.”
All-State Music Festival Schedule
Parade: 6 pm Wednesday, May 8, Montpelier.
Scholarship concert: 8 pm Thursday, May 9, U-32 Auditorium. Free.
Jazz concert: 7:30 pm Friday, May 10, U-32 Auditorium. $8.
Chorus concert: 2 pm Saturday, May 11, U-32 Auditorium. $12 adults; $8 students and seniors.
Orchestra and Band concert: 4 pm Saturday, May 11, U-32 Auditorium. $12 adults; $8 students and seniors. (Combined Saturday tickets $20/$12.)
U-32 All-State Participants
Orchestra: Bethany Atwood, Katherine McKay, Shams Ferver, Norah Ryan.
Jazz Band: Bruno John.
Chorus: Jozie Bolduc, Justin Murray, Adella Polk, Alex Saunders.
More information is available at vmea.org/allstate/festival.php