Mar. 24—Mitchell High School director of bands Ryan Stahle has several reasons to be happy about the 2021 all-state band event.
After its cancelation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is glad it's being held at all. He is happy that six students from Mitchell will be taking part in the rehearsals and performances. And he is happy that Mitchell will be hosting the event for the first time since 1999.
It may take a different shape than in most years, but the 2021 all-state band will take place Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27 at the Mitchell High School Performing Arts Center. The event will feature two days of rehearsals and performances for a limited audience both evenings.
Stahle said the return of the event is welcomed following its cancelation last year. Students from around the state already had auditioned for 2020 when word came down that it would not be held that year. It was a disappointment for all those who had put in long hours of practice to make the grade, only to have the experience pulled out from under them.
"(All-State Orchestra, All-State Jazz Band and All-State Band) are all competitive, and it varies from 500 to 700 kids across the state auditioning for 180 spots," Stahle said. "It's a very lengthy process, they have to do scales, prepared solos, prepared etudes. It's a very lengthy and very competitive process, so when you make it and then are told we aren't going to hold it, it's crushing."
Like most group activities over the last year, the event will implement a number of safety measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Instead of three days of rehearsal followed by an evening concert, the band will be split into four ensembles, two of which will rehearse Friday and perform together that evening and another two that will rehearse Saturday and also perform together that evening.
COVID-19 safety protocols in place at the Mitchell School District also will be in place for All-State Band, Stahle said, including using playable masks and bell covers for brass instruments. Players will have their own 6-foot square area on stage, with a slightly larger area reserved for trombonists, who need extra room to use their slides.
"Thankfully our administration and our district is very willing to be the host of this event," Stahle said. "All students through the process from rehearsals to performance are required to follow protocols. Our mitigation procedures that we put in place are some of the strictest in the state. It's a long process starting in the beginning of the school year."
The concerts will return to Mitchell for the first time since 1999. That year, it was held at the Corn Palace, but South Dakota High School Activities Association officials determined after that performance that the venue did not meet requirements for hosting the event. An appropriate venue would require a large theater section to accommodate the audience as well as enough sizable rooms for practices.
The reason the event is returning to town in 2021 boils down to a simple answer, Stahle said: the Mitchell High School Performing Arts Center.
"We built this facility for use and performances of in-house events and with the assumption that we would be able to host events like this," Stahle said. "We are one of about seven schools in the state that can host all-state Band."
"We built this facility for use and performances of in-house events and with the assumption that we would be able to host events like this."
— Ryan Stahle
Having the concert in Mitchell should make it extra special for the six members who qualified for the band through Mitchell High School. Those students include Max Bruguier, a freshman on bass clarinet; Mason Buenzow, a freshman on baritone saxophone; Alexandra Vermeulen, a sophomore on trumpet; Zachary Van Meter, a junior on trumpet; Jesse Dodd, a junior on percussion and Christian Kremer, a junior on clarinet.
Other area students to make the band include Abby DeKam, a sophomore at Dakota Christian, on flute; Sonya Hansum, a junior at Dakota Christian, on flute; Mariah Koenig, a senior from Chamberlain, on alto saxophone; Thomas Powell, a junior from Chamberlain, on bass trombone; Samantha Peppel, a junior from Chamberlain, on flute; Maxwell Kelsey, a sophomore from Chamberlain, on percussion; Cody Steen, a junior from Chamberlain, on bass clarinet; Christian Spann, a junior from Gregory, on flute; Titus Roesler, a senior at Freeman Academy, on euphonium and Seth Baltzer, a sophomore at Freeman Academy, on tuba.
Van Meter auditioned for all-state band the last three years, but had not been selected until this year. And while he was thrilled to make the cut this year, he has no regrets about the work he put in with previous attempts.
"It sounds cheesy, but you really learn a lot during the auditions. You learn more music skills," Van Meter said. "I've already started preparing a solo for next year, because as soon as they send out the etude you have to prepare, you are on it and preparing for it, because it is extremely competitive."
The fact that the event is returning to Mitchell after a long hiatus also is special, he said.
"It's fun to travel to other towns, but it's also nice this year that I know where I'm going. I know the layout of the PAC, so it's nice to have a familiar environment," Van Meter said.
He said he is pleased to be joining his fellow bandmates from Mitchell for all-state band, but he also is looking forward to seeing other fellow musicians from around the state that he hasn't seen in some time.
"I was in all-state jazz band for two years in middle school, and when I looked at the list of people in my (ensemble), I recognized a few names from All-State Jazz Band," Van Meter said. "I haven't seen or spoken to them since, so it will be nice to see some old faces again. It's all about the people. It's awesome making music, but these are some great kids from all over the state, and it's a privilege to be a part of it."
Mitchell will also host all-state jazz band on May 8. Stahle said it will be great to get students from around the state back to learning and performing great music, even if the format will be a little different from past years.
"We're just thankful for getting to do it in the first place," Stahle said. "And we're thankful we get to do it in a year after we didn't get to do it. It's unfortunate that it's not the normal setting, but it's still wonderful."