by Larry Austin
Three Grand Island High School music groups earned superior ratings at the Dixie Classic Festival in Washington, D.C., with one winning the top prize at the entire event.
The school's wind ensemble and concert band, both under the direction of Martin Allen, and the orchestra, under the direction of Matthew Ells, received superior ratings at the festival, held April 3 and 4. The GIHS wind ensemble also earned the honor award given to the performing group that received the highest overall score among all groups as determined by the festival's panel of adjudicators.
Allen noted that Jill Sheehan, a clarinet player in the wind ensemble, was named the "outstanding soloist of all the ensembles" at the festival. The GIHS wind ensemble won for best brass section and best percussion section.
Allen said the school sent more than 150 students to the festival. Since 1994, GIHS musical groups have made trips to music festivals on a biannual basis.
"It's great to let the students see how they stack up against bands from school districts across the country," Allen said of the trips.
GIHS has stacked up pretty well, winning top prize at past festivals five times.
Jenna Stufkosky, a senior violin player in the orchestra, admitted she "was a little nervous," competing at the festival, "But I was also excited because orchestra has grown so much from the beginning of the year, and it was exciting to see the progress that we made. And then to receive a superior rating, it wasn't a shock, but it was a nice eye-opener that, wow, we've come a far way since the beginning of the year."
Kate Fonte, a junior flute player in wind ensemble, said to reach the highest levels as the GIHS music program has done requires "complete dedication. You can't accept anything less than that, and we expect that out of everyone in each group. You can't be the weak one. There is no weak one. First and last chair are equivalent."
Eric Riederer, a junior trumpet player in the wind ensemble, praised Allen, a music teacher in the district for 26 years.
"I think we all take pride in what we do, and we're just thankful a great teacher like Mr. Allen is helping us out," Riederer said.
Music lovers will have an opportunity to hear some of the same music in the school's upcoming spring concerts, though because the district is renovating the high school auditorium as part of its ongoing capital project, the new location of the concert isn't set in stone.
Stufkosky said the students also took trips to such D.C.-area locations as Arlington National Cemetery, the White House, and the Capitol. The band trip also served to bring the groups together.
"Me, personally, I made a lot of new friends on the band trip. I got to know a lot of people," Stufkosky said. "I think it really helps. You have to be together as an ensemble playing together, but you also need that personal connection with your ensemble as well, and I think the band trip really strengthened that."
Ells, in his fourth year teaching at GIHS, said he feels "blessed that I took over a program that had great success, and I'm happy that the kids and I are continuing on this tradition. I couldn't ask for a better place to work." (photo by Kim Kalman)