To the beat of their drums

Missouri high school musicians travel to MU to perform
Sunday, April 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:23 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Lindbergh High School Marching Band members Chris Zolman, left, and Matt LaGrotta practice at the Missouri high schools State Music Festival on Saturday.

A chaos of sound and music dominated MU’s Lowry Mall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday as high school musicians from all over the state flooded the campus.

They were there to compete in the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s 56th annual State Music Festival, a competition for the state’s best music students.


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Corners and alleys around Memorial Union were packed with students nervously practicing their instruments or singing through solos in anxious anticipation of their soon-to-be-judged performances.

“There’s this huge range of emotions before you go in to sing,” said Kaitlin Tillitt, a junior at Rock Bridge High School. Tillitt competed on Thursday in the vocal soloist category. “Then there’s this whole waiting period, and you’re nervous because you don’t know how you did.”

Judges gave ratings from one to five, with one being the “superior” — and highest — rating. This year, judges rated 4,217 performances, according to Davine Davis, an assistant executive director of the event.

Some students took part in multiple performances.

For example, some instrumentalists were also vocalists.

Columbia’s two high schools, Rock Bridge and Hickman, together had more than 200 performances at the competition.

Tillitt, who had never before competed at the state level, was rated a two, an “excellent” rating. While she was very proud of that, she said most people outside of the fine arts community probably wouldn’t understand what it means to her.

“If we’re going to state in football,” Tillitt said, “it’s a huge deal because the whole school knows about it. But with choir or band it’s not as big of a deal.”

That particular sentiment was shared by several students at the competition regardless of which part of the state they came from.

Colton Durbin, Grace Hubbard, Coy Irvin and Michelle Starr represented Seneca High School, south of Joplin, and all agreed that music never trumps sports for attention at school.

“Most people don’t care (about the state competition), but it’s important to us,” Irvin said. So important, in fact, that these students were OK with having to drive three hours late Saturday to be home on time for their high school prom.

Other students referred to the competition as getting together with a large extended family.

Jamie Billings, from McDonald County High School, brought her bass clarinet, which she affectionately calls “Steve.” She explained what she calls the “hierarchy” of high school musicians.

“Trumpet players are usually somewhat egotistical,” Billings said. “Clarinet players are shy and bassoonists are just weird — they have too many thumb keys and double reeds.

“Drummers are a species entirely their own.”

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