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Honors Music Festival draws nearly 160 DODDS-Europe students

OBERWESEL, Germany — Keyton Daniels is a member of a band that plays “metal-type” stuff.

But the 17-year-old Incirlik High School senior is thrilled to have the chance to sing tenor for a Brazilian folk song, a Carly Simon tune and a 19th-century German piece about a nightingale.

Daniels is one of nearly 160 students from Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe chosen to attend the annual Honors Music Festival. It brings together the top DODDS-Europe vocalists and instrumentalists, who for four days this week are immersed in intense rehearsals at the Oberwesel Youth Hostel.

Two guest conductors from the United States, with help from DODDS music teachers, are leading the instruction, which culminates in a public concert Thursday night in Wiesbaden.

Daniels — one of only four members of his tiny high school choir in Incirlik, Turkey — and other students say they enjoy the festival as much for the music as the chance to spend time with teens who share a love of music.

“It’s nice to be around people as weird as you are, as passionate about what you’re passionate about,” said Daniels, who is participating in his fourth festival. “We’re all musicians here. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you’re into — we’re all united by music.”

Though the festival brings together students from 21 schools, Alyssa Binosa, 17, a junior percussionist from Kaiserslautern, said the group is “like a giant music family.”

“Here people are actually passionate about the music that they play,” she said. “Back in school, it’s just like ‘I need this for a fine arts credit or something,’ but here we actually like to play music.”

Almost 400 students tried out this year, said DODDS-Europe fine arts coordinator Hope Matthews. Auditions are blind, she said, with the nod going to the most talented musicians as determined by a selection committee.

Once chosen, students are provided the sheet music they’ll be singing or playing. They are expected to come prepared.

The fruits of that preparation were clear in chorus rehearsals, said AFNORTH senior soprano Madeleine Booth, a senior at AFNORTH in Brunssom, Netherlands. “Even on the first day, it sounds amazing,” she said. “Obviously, there are bits to polish. But … it already sounds so much better than anything I’ve been exposed to.”

On Tuesday, the choir, led by guest conductor Nicole Lamartine, who directs choral activities at the University of Wyoming, fine-tuned George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Die Nachtigall.”

“These students are very similar to the ones in Wyoming,” where most schools are small and geographically separated, Lamartine said. DODDS students “come from very small schools spread all over Europe, and this is their one chance to come together in a big, mixed chorus. It’s such a phenomenal experience for them because they don’t get to do this very often.”

While “hallelujahs” rung out from the choral room, the band initially struggled with the somber “Hymn for the Fallen.” They pulled it together after some firm nudging by guest conductor Cecil Wilder, a longtime trombonist and executive of Georgia State Music Educators Association.

“You have to do more than just play notes,” he implored, early into the band’s rendition of the song, which was composed for the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” “When we do that, the music just goes out the window” and is “going to fall flat, unless we buy into this piece from the first note to the last.”

The clarinetists had the tough task of playing fast — and quietly — as Wilder instructed, during the slow-tempo piece.

“It’s so hard not to be loud,” said Cherise Thomas, 15, a sophomore at Alconbury Middle/High School in England.

“We’re playing the lower notes, and if you don’t put enough air into the lower notes, then they won’t come out.”

But Wilder must have been pleased by what he heard. As the band continued to work through the piece, he said, “We’re getting better; we’re starting to get more serious about it.”

And, as Binosa ended the song with steady, fading beats on the snare drum, Wilder faltered in his conductor’s laser focus, losing himself for a moment in the music. “Folks, that was one of the nicest moments I’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said.

DODDS-Europe Honors Music Band and Chorus Concert Information

Admission to Thursday’s 7 p.m. concert at the Friedrich von Thiersch Saal of the Wiesbaden Kurhaus is free, but tickets are required for entry. Tickets may be picked up at the door on concert day starting at 4:30 p.m. The event will also be live-streamed at: www.doddshost.net

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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