DODDS Honors Music Festival hits a high note
(See photos at end of story)
OBERWESEL, Germany — Sarah Money can get away with slipping up once in a while when she plays her clarinet in her school’s band. But she can’t this week.
The 15-year-old Baumholder High School sophomore is one of nearly 150 students from Department of Defense Dependents Schools across Europe attending the annual Honors Music Festival, which is equivalent to an all-state chorus or band in the States.
The festival draws DODDS’ most talented musicians and vocalists together for five days of intense musical training under the tutelage of the school system’s best teachers and a couple of guest conductors.
In Money’s high school band, playing close to her best is usually good enough, but the conductors here won’t accept that, she said. “They expect perfection.”
Being surrounded by dozens of the best musicians from across the DODDS system makes that goal easier to attain.
“When they come together, no matter what their experiences are, their talents are magnified,” said Lynne Gackle, the festival’s vocal conductor and a vocal music conductor at the University of South Florida.
The small size of the DODDS schools is an issue, but “The kids I see here are just as talented as any other kids I see in the States,” said Gackle, who has conducted all-state choruses in 27 states. “That’s just a testament to the kids themselves.”
“Surprisingly, in the 28 years I’ve been doing it, it hasn’t changed that much,” said Robert Benson, a music teacher at Aviano High School, Italy, in talking about the talent that the festival assembles.
Benson, who is credited with starting the festival, is conducting the festival’s finale, which features the festival’s three individual groups — vocal performance, string ensemble and the band — in one performance.
It doesn’t sound like the Baumholder band, Money said.
“This sounds so much better,” she said. “In our band there’s one trombone, three clarinets and four flutes.” Here, there are 15 clarinets alone.
But at least Money has the opportunity to play at her high school. At Ramstein High School, where Travis George, a 15-year-old cellist, is a freshman, there is no orchestra program, and no chance for him to play in school, he said.
For George, getting to play at the festival wasn’t so much about making better music. “I wanted to do something musical with other Americans,” he said. He plays every week with a group of Germans, but for the most part they don’t talk to him, he said.
Brigham Geurts, a 17-year-old vocalist and junior at Stephen F. Decatur High School in Sigonella, Italy, also has limited opportunities to perform music at school.
His school has a choir class — it has just four students — but it didn’t fit into his schedule. To this point, most of his singing education has come from his mom, and most of his singing is done at church, he said.
The choir at the music festival — 69 members strong — is a new experience for him. “This is pretty much the best choir I’ve been in – the biggest, too,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.”
The festival concludes Thurday with a performance in Wiesbaden. For more information on the concert, call DODDS-Europe at 0611-380-7358.