COLUMBIA — Chris Vasquez, a junior at Blue Springs High School, said he is no stranger to nerves — but he has learned to conquer them.
This is his second year at the State Music Festival where more than 500 high schools are performing in Columbia this week, and he has earned the top score in his solo vocal performances both years. That takes presence, confidence and talent, Vasquez said.
"It's the art of it that really sells it to the judge," he said.
Missouri high school students flooded the MU campus in pursuit of secondary music education's highest honor — the "1." The three-day competition started Thursday and ends Saturday.
"I just love music," said Wesley Sisk, a junior at Lafayette High School in St. Joseph. "It's important because it helps you get out of your comfort zone, especially vocal performances."
The festival, sponsored by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, includes solo and ensemble wind, percussion, string, piano and vocal performances. A score of "1" is the highest a performance can earn; the lowest score is a 5.
Friday afternoon, young musicians congregated on Lowry Mall and outside Memorial Student Union to practice their pieces.
The sounds of the students' instruments and voices managed to rise above the hum of the idling buses that brought them to MU.
On Lowry Mall, a saxophone quartet jammed in one corner while a clarinet duo across the square was playing as their parents held up the music like a makeshift stand.
Performances in front of the judges took place all over campus, in the practice rooms at the Fine Arts Building, as well as rooms in Middlebush and Townsend halls, Waters Auditorium, Ellis Library, downtown churches and other locations.
"There's always a level of nervousness, but that's how you know you should be here," said Stephen Swett, a junior at Park Hill High School in Kansas City.
Vasquez performed Friday morning and earned a score of 1 on his solo performance, singing Giulio Caccini's "Amarilli Mia Bella" and Henry Purcell's "I Attempt from Love's Sickness to Fly."
He said that's one of his favorite parts of coming to state.
"Success is a great feeling," Vasquez said.
He has been singing about four years, and his family has been there every step of the way. His grandmother, Sharon Larson, traveled from Utah to watch her grandson sing. She says what she enjoys most, besides her grandson's voice, is the lively atmosphere of the state festival.
"The spirit here is just wonderful," Larson said. "It's wonderful to see the talent and listen to talent progress."
After high school, Vasquez plans to keep pursuing music at the collegiate level. His goal is to attend Brigham Young University and earn a music degree, going on to work as a high school or college instructor.
No matter where his degree takes him, Vasquez said he will always keep music close to his heart.
"I don't want to say it's everything, but it's a big, big part of my life," he said.