The three-day festival is made up of a band, an orchestra and two choirs, all comprised of students from around the state. They rehearsed all day Thursday, and will do the same Friday, and Saturday, and then perform in a concert Saturday night.

On this Friday morning, three trombone players and a trumpet player are four musicians are warming up on a bare stage at Sitka High School.

Leland Shennett, a senior at Sitka High, is the trumpet player. This will be his first time and last time at the all-state festival.

“Yup. Yeah. Sophomore, freshman and junior year I didn’t send a tape in,” he says. “This year I did. And yeah, I made it!”

Today, Shennett and the three trombone players are working with instructor Roger Schmidt. They go over and over small chunks of music. They look at a phrase here, they clap out a short rhythm there, until they find the sound they want.

Two hours of this happens, and then a break, which is when trombone player George Jones jokes about why they do all this work for a single concert.

“It looks good on college transcripts,” he says, to laughter from his friends. “It is really fun. Seeing the conductors and the choice of music is all really exciting. There’s nothing like preparing a full band in three days. It’s really kind of invigorating.”

And that feeling that Jones is talking about, that doing something great also means having fun, is one of the things that music teacher John DePalatis says he wants his students to learn from studying music.

“It’s a satisfaction knowing that they’re being challenged and they’re doing something that’s fun for them,” DePalatis says. “A big part of my educational philosophy is to get kids doing things well. And it’s one thing to have fun in class; that’s great. But I want to make sure that’s tied to excellence. So if we’re having fun it’s because we’re doing something great. And for these kids it’s an opportunity for them to do something great and have fun with it. That’s what it’s all about.”

Across the hall from the auditorium, DePalatis is helping sophomore Rachel Youngberg, who is practicing for the all-state treble choir. The words to this song are in Latin.  Youngberg laughs a little as she struggles with the language. She’s written “help!” on the first page of the music.

When she loses her place, she smiles, stops singing and turns off the iPod, which is playing the piano part. DePalatis puts a pink sheet of paper on Youngberg’s music stand. It’s a Latin pronunciation guide.

“You’re reading this like it’s English part of the time,” DePalatis says.

“Yeah,” Youngberg says.

Youngberg admits that of all the pieces they’re performing, this one is not her favorite.

“Getting better at it though,” she says, “and like Mr. D said, I’m sure I’ll end up loving it the most.”

So, with the pronunciation guide in front of her, she works her way through some syllables, the iPod gives her the pitch and she starts again from the top, trying to get closer to excellence.
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