Student music groups bring home the gold

Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thunder Mountain High School music groups came home Sunday night from a national music competition with gold, silver and bronze awards.

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Michael Penn/Juneau Empire / Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire / Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

The concert choir, string orchestra, chamber orchestra, concert band and jazz band participated in the Heritage Festival in Anaheim, Calif., last week. They left Monday night and the competition was over the weekend.

Band teacher Brian Van Kirk said the competition was judged in two ways: how well a group performed (which got a gold, silver, bronze, merit or heritage award) and how well a group performed versus everyone else (rated first, second and third place).

The concert choir and the string orchestra both received gold awards, the chamber orchestra received silver, the concert band received a silver and first place in their category, the jazz band received a bronze with a third place rating.

This was the first national competition the three-year-old high school music program has entered.

“We’re really proud of them,” Van Kirk said. “They all did really well.”

TMHS was the only school in Alaska to participate, he said.

“It really brought the music department together,” Van Kirk said. “This is one of those things that really grounded the music program and showed that we can compete on a national level and what we can do here in Alaska. Thunder Mountain competed in every event that was offered. We felt that we represented what we are capable of doing in Alaska very well. We made our school and our community proud.”

A total of 65 students participated, however many perform in more than one ensemble.

“There were schools represented from six different states,” said music teacher Tyree Pini. “There are groups coming from all over the place and we get to see how we rank with other music programs. That’s a neat and wonderful opportunity.”

Pini said another part of the event was that teachers from larger high schools and music directors from universities spent time with each group going over their songs and helping out.

“They were opened up to new experiences that helped make their music grow,” Pini said. “It opened up the passion of the lyrics for them in what the choir is singing. That’s really neat, when you get a professional in the realm and says, ‘hey, I have this to offer your group’ and it works.”

Van Kirk said while the competition was two days, they were supposed to have an exchange with a local high school. He said the festival contacted about 14 local high schools and the scheduling didn’t work with any.

Students also got to take advantage of local attractions for a bit of extra fun on their spring break, including a day at Disneyland and Medieval Times.

Pini said he recognizes that Thunder Mountain is a young school, and through the festival they do see room for improvement. He hopes to offer more opportunities like this in the future to students in music programs.

“I’m looking for other festivals besides just the Heritage Festival,” he said. “I don’t know what the future is going to hold for each of these groups. I think it was an important trip for the music department.”

Van Kirk and Pini were both thankful of the community, superintendent, and parents for supporting the trip. Pini said people put in a lot of hours fund-raising for the festival since October.

“It takes everyone in the community to allow us to shine at competitions like this,” Van Kirk said.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or

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