Local schools participate in 15th annual middle-level music contest

February 28, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Bluffs Middle School and Gering Junior High instrumental music students participated in the 15th annual Western Nebraska Middle-Level Music Contest on Saturday, Feb. 23.

The contest began at 7:30 a.m. in several classrooms at Scottsbluff High School. Four judges were present to judge students’ solo performances in the morning and large group performances in the afternoon.

The judges were Gary Hall of Loveland, Colorado; Steve Miller of Cheyenne, Wyoming; Austin Sailors of Mitchell, Nebraska; and Michael Stephens of Chadron, Nebraska. The judges offered encouragement and advice to help the young musicians develop their music skills. The students’ performances were judged on the criteria of articulation, balance and blend, dynamics, interpretation and style, intonation, literature, note accuracy, phrasing, posture, rhythm, technique, tempo and tone quality. The students were also evaluated on their appearance, behavior and stage presence.

“On the rating sheets as each soloist plays, after they’re done, the judges will take a few minutes and give the students some pointers and work with them,” said BMS band teacher Michael Koch. “I built that into this because it’s a middle school contest, so we’re trying to have it be a very positive learning experience for the students. I built in enough time so each soloist or small group can be worked with for a few minutes.”

Each soloist and large group received a rating from division I to division III, which represents superior, excellent or good.

For eighth grader Alea Chavez, help from Michael and Deb Koch prepared her with her piece.

“Mr. and Mrs. Koch are amazing teachers,” she said. “They’re amazing at what they do. They always give words of encouragement. They teach life skills while they teach music, too.”

Chavez performed Schrezo on the trumpet for her solo performance, which took weeks of practice to perfect.

“You started and once you got the notes down, you still had to do other things like dynamics and then you had to do articulations,” she said. “Every time you learned something you had to do something else to get better.”

While in her third year, Chavez said the performance is still nerve-wracking, but fun.

“It’s worth it,” said Chavez. “Music can be pretty important if you stick with it.”

Sixth grader Olivia Elvehjem also was nervous prior to her performance of William Tells All on the snare drum.

“I was extremely relieved when I was done,” said Elvehjem. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”

Following the experience, she said, “It made me better because now I know what it feels like to perform a whole song on my own. It makes me more experienced and now I know what to expect.”

Koch said the idea for the contest came about 15 years ago when he was judging a music contest for a friend in Colorado. During the contest, the judges could interact with the students and Koch wanted to provide that opportunity to his students.

“With the middle school kids, especially sixth graders, it’s probably their first time ever trying to play alone in front of someone else. They are still learning a lot of skills and those pointers that the judge can give them can take them to the next level and move them forward.”

Throughout the day, the results were posted for everyone to review.

The Bluffs Middle School band received 80 superior ratings and four excellent ratings in the solo and small ensemble performances. The sixth, seventh and eighth grade concert bands were awarded superior ratings.

“It’s not about the rating for me,” said Koch.” It’s nice when the kids do well and I know the kids all want the one — the superior rating. We hope that it happens for them, but more importantly did they learn anything from the experience, did they grow as a musician. That’s the more important part for me.”

The students will receive certificates for their performances prior to the last song of the band concert.

“It takes a lot of guts to get out there and put yourself out there and take a risk to do a solo. I think there needs to be some sort of recognition for their efforts.”

Eighth graders performed a song about Mount St. Helens and March Creole. Seventh grade played an overture and a spooky piece about a midnight horse ride. Sixth grade’s piece was about frogs and included leaps in the music and the sounds of insects.

Prior to the contest, BMS students worked alongside their accompanist on perfecting their performance. They had six weeks to polish their performance.

“I know how hard my students work,” he said. “About the last two weeks before contest, they were getting a private lesson working with their accompanist. I think we got to each student three or four times to prepare.”

While the solo performances are not required, Koch said out of 196 band students, 84 students prepared solos.

The BMS orchestra received 10 superior ratings and three excellent ratings. All three grade level orchestras received superior ratings.

Gering Junior High musicians also participated in the contest.

The judges awarded 21 superior ratings and four excellent ratings to soloists and small ensemble performers. The seventh and eighth grade concert band and the junior high jazz band all received excellent ratings.

BMS band students’ next performance will be Tuesday night at 7 p.m. for the middle school band concert. The eighth graders next competition will be at a music in the parks festival in Denver, Colorado, in May.

“The kids did very well, so did the orchestra kids. There were a lot of very positive things as far as a performance standpoint. I think they had a positive day and performed well and have a lot to be proud of.”