Students sing, play their way through DODEA honors music festival
OBERWESEL, Germany — As a tuba player, Derek Hammond has learned to play loud without blasting notes.
It’s a skill that Hammond, a sophomore at Vicenza High School, Italy, and his band mates are practicing this week as they prepare for a Thursday evening performance before family and friends — just a few days after meeting and first playing together.
“Even the director now, he’s like ‘make sure to back off,’” Hammond said, referring to instructions for the tuba section from the band’s conductor.
Hammond is one of 66 members of honor band, a full ensemble of woodwinds, percussion, brass and one lone string - the double bass. The band is comprised of student musicians from U.S. military schools across Europe who were selected to be a part of this year’s DODEA Europe’s Honors Music Festival.
Joining the band for a week of making music are 79 students in honor choir. Together the group — chosen from about 340 applicants — represents more than a dozen Department of Defense Education Activity Europe schools in Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Turkey and Belgium, according to organizers.
The honors music festival is a tradition in DODEA Europe dating back at least 30 years, said Wayne Fears, the event’s project officer.
“We have teachers here in Europe who attended it as students,” he said.
The idea is to mirror the experience students might have as members of a high school all-state band or choir in the States, said Alina Rozanski, the festival’s choir lead and the choral director at Netzaberg Middle School.
Many of the pieces they’re rehearsing are collegiate level because of their complexity.
“I think they are doing incredibly well. It’s hard music that they have a very short amount of time to work together as a team,” said Lt. Col. Don Schofield, Jr., the conductor for the honor band who’s also the commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band.
DODEA brought in Ryan Holder, the associate director of choral studies at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, to be the choir’s guest conductor.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Holder said of rehearsals, which includes tackling a diverse range of songs, from the chant-like arrangement of an Indian raja to Beethoven’s classic oratorio “Hallelujah” (from the Mount of Olives).
Holder hopes to instill in students that they can take their love of singing with them “no matter where they go.
“No matter what they choose to major in in college, they can always find a place to sing, whether in a collegiate choir or a church choir or a community group,” he said. “Their voice is their instrument and goes with them wherever they go.”
Being around other like-minded students is the best part of the week, said Keilee Daubon, a sophomore from Vilseck, who is singing soprano during her second year at honors music festival.
Going from a smaller school “to a large choir, where everyone knows what they’re doing and ... everyone is as passionate about singing as I am,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Shoring up the lower end of the vocal scale in bass is Ramstein sophomore Conner Bloomer.
Bloomer had his hopes set on singing a solo during Tshotsholoza, a South African freedom song.
“I was really nervous” he said, about having to audition for the solo. “But I tried out for (another) solo right before that so after that, the nervousness just melted away like butter,” he said.
Maria Bacon, a junior from Vilseck, was easy to spot in rehearsal Tuesday, standing up in the back playing the double bass. She said she’s doesn’t mind being the only stringed-instrument in the band.
“I love having the percussion too,” she said. “We’re always in orchestra with the string bass, and it’s different but not so loud. There’s so many instruments I’ve never even heard of.”
Schofield said the band is playing a salsa, a basic overture, a small symphony, a march and a ballad. The band will end with a modern piece called “Cool Joe,” which they’ve dedicated to their teachers, he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Hammond, the tuba player, said he was partial to the Mambo Perro Loco.
“It’s really upbeat and it kind of makes you want do dance,” he said.