DODEA students’ music fills the air in hostel overlooking Rhine

Nearly 150 students from 17 DODEA-Europe high schools gathered for one reason — to make beautiful music at the Honors Music Festival.
Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

By DAN STOUTAMIRE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 14, 2018

WIESBADEN, Germany — Nearly 150 high school students from 17 DODEA-Europe schools have gathered in a cozy hostel on a bluff overlooking the Rhine River in Oberwesel, Germany, for one reason — to make beautiful music in a beautiful place.

“This is probably the nicest backdrop for rehearsals that I’ve ever had,” said Damon Talley, director of bands at Louisiana State University, who was brought in by DODEA to fine-tune the 69-member band. “We all have this singular love for music and we come together for a few days and get a chance to express it together.”

The 2018 Honors Music Festival is a chance for music-loving students to learn from and interact with others who share their passion, even if only for a week. The festival is comprised of three days of intense rehearsals before a concert at the hostel at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

The concert will be live-streamed on the DODEA-Europe YouTube page at www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-syTHTZnCQ&feature=youtu.be.

“My favorite part about here is that 80 kids from all over are able to sing in one room, wanting to sing their hearts out. That’s truly inspiring,” said Arnold Castro, a senior choir member from Lakenheath. “The different cultures, even among different American kids, it opens your eyes and you see how small your world is just on one little base.”


The 79-member choir, comprised of tenor, bass, soprano and alto vocalists, will be singing a wide array of pieces, including gospel, Latin American merengue, classical and baroque, as well as more contemporary music.

On Tuesday, students were gathered around guest choir leader Jose Rivera, from the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, soaking in his knowledge before bursting out into the upbeat “He’ll Make a Way” by Byron Smith and the folksy “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon.

“We’ve focused a lot on vocal technique and making music with their voices, listening skills, stylistic abilities and skills as well,” Rivera said. “There are some things that happen in a choir like this that they can’t replicate in their own schools, because of the number of students here.”

Down the hall from the hive of activity in the choir rehearsal, members of the band practiced their own concert pieces. It’s demanding work, with only a lunch break between hours of practice, but students are enjoying the extra repetitions.

“It’s wonderful to be able to just focus for music for a week, to hone those skills,” said Rachel Weyland, a senior trumpeter from Spangdahlem who has attended the festival for all four years of high school. “Granted, my face muscles tend to hurt after a week, but it’s totally worth it.”

Even students new to the program are, after initial fears, taking to the music-intensive week.

“It was kind of intimidating at first because I’ve never played with a huge band before, but it’s been really fun these past couple days,” said Emily Thompson, a freshman flautist from Stuttgart. “It is fun just to take a break from school and meet a lot of new people here who all share a passion for music.”

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The trombone section of the DODEA-Europe Honors Band rehearses a number at this year's Honors Music Festival, Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

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