DODDS musicians bring Oklahoma’s spirit to German town
OBERWESEL, Germany — Despite its secluded setting on a wooded hilltop overlooking the Rhine River, all was not quiet this week at the Oberwesel Youth Hostel.
Anyone wandering the grounds Tuesday afternoon might have felt as though she was among fields of Midwestern “barley, carrots and pertaters,” as loud, energetic notes from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” escaped from the building.
The Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe Honors Music Festival draws the school system’s top vocalists and instrumentalists for several intense days of collaboration with two college-level guest instructors, as well as DODDS music teachers. This year, 154 students — 74 in band and 80 in choir — from 21 schools were selected from blind auditions they submitted digitally.
After arriving at the hostel Sunday afternoon and jumping into their first rehearsals that evening, the young artists have four days to practice a diverse set of music that they’ll perform before a large American and German audience on Thursday night at the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden. That means long days of rehearsals and little downtime, but no one was complaining.
During a lunch break Tuesday, students said they were thrilled to be there and to have the chance to spend the week playing music with like-minded classmates.
“That’s how I would spend all of my weeks, if I could,” said Alex Cavoli, a junior percussionist from Vilseck.
Hope Matthews, DODDS-Europe fine arts coordinator, said programs like the music festival are intended to not only foster student interest in the performing arts but to also provide them with an experience that they might not get at their own schools.
“Many of our students come from schools that are small,” she said. “This is their first time to perform with an ensemble of this size and this quality. Whether they’re choral or band, it’s a life-changing high school experience for them.”
Some of the students plan to further their musical studies.
Mikayla Maiava, a senior in Honor Choir from Vilseck, has participated in four straight music festivals. She plans to study musical theater next year at SUNY Fredonia in New York.
“I’m really sad to leave this place, but I feel like it has prepared me,” she said.
Traevon Stith, a senior vocalist from Patch, will study electronic music production in Berlin next fall.
“Honestly, honors choirs, it’s the best week of my entire year. It’s the reason why I’m still in school,” he said, noting he could have graduated in January. “Being surrounded by so much talent, it’s very humbling as well as a great opportunity to take lessons and learn different things from different people.”
The instructors expect a lot, the learning curve is high, and the pace is extremely fast, students said.
“Note for note, the music itself isn’t much more challenging, but the quality at which we’re playing at is,” Cavoli said.
Demands for perfection are tempered by plenty of encouragement, however.
After a round of “hallelujahs” during Mozart’s uplifting “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” choral guest conductor Mark Babcock, a music professor at Central College in Pella, Iowa, and an accomplished organist, was pleased.
“Yeah,” he beamed to the choir. “If they’re (the audience Thursday) not happy at the end of that, if they don’t smile, they don’t have a soul.”
The DODDS Honors Musical Festival’s performance at the Wiesbaden Kurhaus begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Tickets, which are free, may be picked up at the door beginning at 5 p.m. the day of the concert. The concert will be live-streamed at: www.doddshost.net.