COLUMBIA — Disbelief swept over the face of flute soloist Katie Slaughter. After weeks of strenuous rehearsal, the 17-year-old’s perfect performance rating was a pleasant and welcomed surprise.
Slaughter was one of thousands of aspiring musicians who made their way to MU for the 60th annual Missouri State High School Activities Association State Music Festival that began Thursday and ends Saturday.
The festival includes more than 4,400 individual and group performances representing 401 schools. Festival participants qualified by earning a division rating of 1 at their respective district-level festival. Slaughter, a junior at Staley High School in Kansas City, qualified at districts but wasn’t expecting another perfect rating.
“The pressure of state adds more nerves, so I didn’t think that a 1 would be possible,” Slaughter said. “I’m really surprised.”
The festival evaluates performances in six different categories: woodwinds, brass, percussion, piano, strings and vocal. The festival's assistant executive director Davine Davis compared the event to state finals for high school sports.
“This is their equivalent to state basketball or track, and they get stressed about it,” Davis said. “They’ll walk away with an educational experience and the critique to be a better musician.”
Many high school participants get their first taste of college life at the festival. Judged performances take place in the Fine Arts Building and Memorial Union at MU. Lowry Mall acts as the hub for participants awaiting their performances or final ratings. The performers can be seen practicing their instruments in hopes of working out any last kinks before they're judged.
It’s the first festival for Ethan Murphy, 15, a freshman at Kirksville High School. While he thinks he could have done better hitting the high-notes of his tuba solo, the experience of being at MU made the trip worthwhile.
“The buildings are just so cool to look at,” Murphy said. “I could see myself as a student here after I graduate.”