Katie Rempel, vocal solo
Isabelle Whorton, vocal solo
Dillon Boldt, vocal solo
Karoline Cherenkova, piano solo
Vasilisa Cherenkova, flute solo, piano solo
Moriah Jost, vocal solo
Sterling College hosts Online Music Festival
In a normal year, Kansas high school students would just be completing music festival season now. With the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is not normal. All school activities have been suspended, including music festivals. Seeing a need, Sterling College music professor Larry Brownlee who is a 39-year veteran of teaching in Kansas high schools, created the Sterling College Online Music Festival, which just concluded last week.
The Sterling College Online Music Festival ran for most of the month of April. In total, 380 solos were entered in the festival. Students from 100 different towns from Kansas City to Garden City to Pittsburg and even towns in Oklahoma and Missouri participated.
“I am very pleased by the numbers of participants from all across the state and all sizes of schools. We had students from the smallest 1A schools to the largest 6A schools and everything in between. I was also very grateful for the 70 directors who volunteered to help. I was also thankful for the publishing companies who allowed us to hold the festival through digital means.”
Students entering the “virtual” music festival had to complete a questionnaire, upload a link to an unlisted YouTube video of their solo performance, upload a parent permission form, and upload a copy of their music. Over 500 registrations were initially received but approximately 20% did not end up following through. “I think the pandemic malaise is creeping up on everybody,” Brownlee comments.
Fellow Sterling College music faculty member Tiffiney Harms, assistant professor of music, adjudicated piano solos and 69 other music educators from Kansas colleges and universities and high schools assisted as adjudicators in the festival. “I am extremely grateful for all the music educators who helped out. The critiques have all been positive and helpful which is very important,” Brownlee says.
The organization of the first-ever Sterling College Online Music Festival was not a small task. Brownlee has spent dozens and dozens of hours and estimates he sent over 1000 emails. Overall things have run smoothly. Brownlee explains, “Of course, there were glitches along the way -- mostly dealing with videos that were not viewable or music that wasn’t readable. But those were handled with a few more emails back and forth to adjudicators and to students.”
Each participant receives a written critique and a rating from 1 – Superior to 5 – Poor from the adjudicator. Those receiving Superior ratings will receive a medal.
Theresa Fischer, vocal music director from Fredonia schools adds, “My students and myself were devastated with all the events that were canceled this semester. Having this opportunity gave them just a little piece of normal back. Even though we have had a difficult time continuing to sing online, I’ve learned that music can continue no matter what the circumstance. I was able to use all their video submissions as part of our online choir concert. I hope that this will be a memory they have for years to come.”
Brownlee says, “Students, parents and teachers have all be very thankful for the opportunity this provided the students to perform their solos. Many of the students had been working on the solos for months. The thought of not being able to perform was crushing to many.”
One of those students is J. Atticus Feldt from Lawrence who submitted his trombone solo to the online festival. He says, “It’s my senior year and I wanted to be able to do at least something I loved to try to have something positive happen during this crazy time.”
Emma Scantlin, senior from Riverton who entered her vocal solo, says, “Singing is my passion and this festival helped me feel like it was a regular spring music contest! I very much enjoyed being able to do what I love, get critiqued and scored as I usually would.”
Lynn Just, Hillsboro High School vocal music director had eight of her students participate while she adjudicated. “I think it is so important to recognize the work these students have done, mostly out of their regular class times even before this pandemic. The students who have gotten results back from Sterling have been very excited to share their success with me. I cannot give enough praise and thank you's to Larry Brownlee and Sterling College for setting up this opportunity for our Kansas kids,” Just explains.
The Sterling College Online Music Festival was free of charge for students. All adjudicators and Brownlee himself were not paid for their participation. The cost of the medals for those students earning Superior ratings along with the postage has been funded by a GoFundMe account started by Brownlee. “When we first announced the festival, I made a plea and have received $1125. I estimate that we still need around $350 to be able to completely fund the medals and postage.” Those who may wish to contribute may go to gf.me/u/xtdav8 to do so or make a donation directly to Larry Brownlee.