COLUMBIA — Part of MU had a carnival-like atmosphere Friday as excited high school students filled Lowry Mall, unpacking their instruments and rehearsing music in ensembles tucked between Ellis Library and the Fine Arts Building.
The air hummed with anticipation and smelled of funnel cakes, fried Oreos and chargrilled hamburgers as students tuned their instruments for the 61st Annual State Music Festival, sponsored by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
For some students, this is their last year of competition before heading to college in the fall. For others, it is their first festival, an event that brings more than 1,000 high school students to MU every year.
Sophomore Savannah Nokes and senior Nomachot Adiang, both from Park Hill High School in Parkville near north Kansas City, performed vocal pieces they'd been preparing all year. Although they are at different stages in their musical career, both felt the same sense of anticipation and nervousness.
"Every single time, it's different," Adiang said. "Even though the set up is the same and the festival is the same, you never know for sure how well you're going to do. I'm nervous every time."
For Adiang, this will be her last performance at the festival before heading to Missouri State University to study psychology. "I'm still going to sing, though, with (Missouri) State's Chorale."
Nokes, who is competing for the first time at the music festival, said it is unlike anything she's done before.
"We prepare for months and months — just two songs," Nokes said.
"Usually, the two songs contrast, one slow, one fast, one up tempo. Something to show our range," Adiang said. The students can also perform in up to two ensembles, with a maximum of eight vocalists.
After a preliminary district round, students practice even more. If they earn a score of 1 — "the best of the best," as Nokes described it — then they compete at the state level. At the state competition, students are given just one chance to impress the judges, who are professional musicians and vocalists.
Nokes, who started formal voice lessons last summer in preparation for competition, aspires to be a worship artist once she finishes school. Admiring the campus' architecture and enjoying a bit of sunlight between the engorged rain clouds Friday, Nokes seemed to glow while describing her enchantment with it all.
"It's a lot of fun. It's also nerve racking," she said. "But I feel just really blessed to be here."
After waking up at 4 a.m. for the bus ride to MU, both young women were happy to take a break from the competition and visit with their friends as they practiced for their own performances.
Although the music festival lasts for three days, each student only competes on one of those days. It's the day they've been practicing for the entire year.
By 3 p.m. both students had received their scores. Nokes, who sang in a quartet, and Adiang, in a trio, both received a 1 — the highest mark available.
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