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Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band prepare to play during a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The 75-member band, along with an 80-person choir and 10-piece string ensemble, will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center. A 19-person jazz band is to perform Thursday night.

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band prepare to play during a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The 75-member band, along with an 80-person choir and 10-piece string ensemble, will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center. A 19-person jazz band is to perform Thursday night. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band prepare to play during a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The 75-member band, along with an 80-person choir and 10-piece string ensemble, will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center. A 19-person jazz band is to perform Thursday night.

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band prepare to play during a rehearsal Tuesday afternoon. The 75-member band, along with an 80-person choir and 10-piece string ensemble, will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center. A 19-person jazz band is to perform Thursday night. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival choir practice Tuesday afternoon at Yokota High School. The 80-person choir will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center along with other student musicians selected to participate in the festival.

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival choir practice Tuesday afternoon at Yokota High School. The 80-person choir will perform Friday night at the Taiyo Community Center along with other student musicians selected to participate in the festival. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

Nigal Shah (right), a freshman at Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, plays his viola alongside a fellow member of the Far East Honor Music Festival string ensemble during practice Tuesday afternoon.

Nigal Shah (right), a freshman at Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, plays his viola alongside a fellow member of the Far East Honor Music Festival string ensemble during practice Tuesday afternoon. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival jazz practice Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival jazz practice Tuesday afternoon. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band practice Tuesday afternoon in the ball room of the Taiyo Community Center at Yokota Air Base.

Members of the Far East Honor Music Festival concert band practice Tuesday afternoon in the ball room of the Taiyo Community Center at Yokota Air Base. (Bryce S. Dubee/S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Nigal Shah had never played his viola so much in such a short span. And there were still three days until the concert.

Hard work, long hours and lots of discipline were watchwords for the week as Shah and roughly 185 other musicians from 11 Pacific base high schools came to Yokota for the 30th Far East Honor Music Festival, an annual showcase featuring choir, jazz, string ensemble and concert band performers.

The festival is scheduled to end Friday with a two-hour public concert at the Taiyo Recreation Center.

"This is the most I’ve ever practiced in one day," Shah, a freshman at Kinnick High School at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, said during a Tuesday afternoon session with the string ensemble.

Since it is his first year attending the festival, he said that at first he didn’t think he was going to make it through the audition process.

"Everyone who got in got in because they worked really hard," he said.

This year, the festival received 365 auditions from throughout the Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Pacific and Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary School Guam districts, said Mark Bruschuk, the Yokota High School music director and festival coordinator.

Performers were selected after a rigorous judging process that began in November and involved musicians submitting an MP3 recording of their audition.

Instrumental recordings were judged by members of the 7th Fleet Navy Band, while elementary and middle school music educators and community volunteers judged vocal performances, according to a DODDS-Pacific news release.

Similar to all-county or all-state band festivals in the States, the event presents a rare opportunity for musicians who come from smaller programs.

"This is the only chance for some of the students to play with full instrumentation," said Eldon Kirkhum Jr., the music teacher at Matthew C. Perry High School at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. "They get a chance to interact with musicians who are as serious about music as they are."

For Kathlen Thompson, a violinist and sophomore at Robert D. Edgren High School at Misawa Air Base, playing with fellow DODDS students isn’t something that happens too often.

With no strings program at Edgren, the first-time festival attendee said she plays off base with a local orchestra.

"It’s really neat to get to play with everyone here," she said.

Shah agreed.

"Even though [the strings ensemble is] a small group, it’s a pretty powerful experience," he said.

On the other end of their high school musical careers, choir members Alice Brown from Kadena High School on Okinawa and Nicole Ciesinski from Seoul American High School in South Korea are participating in their fourth and final festivals.

"Every year when I go I’m so amazed by how beautiful it is," said Brown, who admitted that sometimes during practice she stops singing so she can listen to her fellow performers. "I’m just trying to relish every last moment."

Both singers said that even though the style and sound may change every year as students and music directors come and go, they feel the quality of the performance gets better every year.

Bruschuk echoed the sentiment.

"When you come out to this thing on Friday and see what they put together in just a week, it will blow your socks off," he said. "You’re looking at the best of the best out there."

The concert band, string ensemble and choir will perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Taiyo Recreation Center. On Thursday at 6 p.m., the jazz band will hold a concert at the Taiyo Community Center.

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