By Caroline Drew
District music may sound exactly like a District competition in any other sport or school activity, but it is more than just a competition between Nebraska musicians. It’s an opportunity for growth and improvement for vocal and instrumental musicians alike.
“It’s a really cool opportunity to get some performing experience and feedback from an expert,” band director Mr. Paul Niedbalski said.
Choral student, senior Kylie Ewing agrees, “My favorite part is performing it for the judges and hearing their comments about our performance,” she said.
All music classes— band, orchestra, choir, etc— participate in District music as a whole class. Students also have opportunities to enter District music as soloists, duets, trios or other small groups, such as the handbells quartet that is a new addition to the competition this year.
Students perform a piece in front of a panel of judges. “Small groups and solos are heard by only one judge, but large ensembles play or sing for three judges,” Niedbalski said. “They [the judges] have their eyes and ears on every aspect of performance, and their job is to find the things that the student is doing well, or doing not so well, and offer suggestions on how they can improve for the future.”
Each entry is given a score for their overall performance, based on tone, timing, phrasing, balance, dynamics, general appearance, and piece selection, among other aspects. “Each entry is graded on a scale of 1-5,” Niedbalski said, “one being the best, and if you earn a Superior Rating (1), you’ll receive a congratulatory certificate.” Last year, Marian’s choir was rated 1+, meaning they received a one from all of their evaluating judges. Marian’s band took home a 1 rating as well.
Participating in Districts is hard work, often requiring two to four months of hard work to master a challenging piece. “We’ll usually start looking at options pretty early in the second semester,” Niedbalski said. “The class and small groups will work on their selections for a month or two, but sometimes soloists will start working on their piece much longer. Some of the more advanced individual instrumental works take a long time to master!”
“The most challenging part is making it [the performance] artistic after just learning it,” senior vocal soloist Mia Soulliere said, “because that is what sets apart the top vocalists.” Soulliere will be singing “Willow Song” by Shakespeare at this year’s competition, “I enjoy learning a classical piece because I enjoy classical music,” Soulliere said.
For Ewing, the most challenging part is often finding time outside of class to practice their pieces as a full class and as a smaller chamber group.
Whatever the challenges may be, Marian’s music students are determined to overcome them and give stellar performances. District music began on April 18 and continues through April 21 at Fremont High School.