The musicians sucked in their breath and drew back an arm toward their heads as if they were pulling back on an archery bow. Then they thrust their arms out like the path of an arrow and pushed out the air in an explosive rush.
Just as football players practice tackling and hitting, musicians need to exercise their muscles, Alan Gemberling told a classroom of high school students Friday at the Southeast Alaska Music Festival in Juneau.
Gemberling, an associate professor of music at the University of Idaho in Moscow, was helping the musicians develop an exercise routine so the basics of playing would be second nature.
``If you have to think about it, you're cheating the music and taking away from the end result - the music-making,'' he told the students.
There were still plenty of nerves and yet plenty of music-making at the festival of about 800 students from 12 schools. It was organized by Sitka High School music teacher Brad Howey, but held in Juneau because of remodeling at his school.
``It's the goal of the entire year, the music festival,'' said Niko Hoskins, who plays alto saxophone for the Juneau Jazz Band.
``It's a lot more nerve-wracking in your home town, playing before a home crowd,'' he added.
Students attend clinics and perform for adjudicators and the public. The music groups aren't ranked numerically, although some receive a superior rating. Unlike parents, who have to love the students' performance, the adjudicators are objective professionals, students said.
``Just getting that feedback from a professional, that's the difference between this and a regular concert,'' said Julia Bastuscheck, who directs the Juneau Orchestra, the only string ensemble at the festival.
``I am going to be incredibly nervous tonight,'' she told her students in rehearsal Friday. They worked on memorizing the first measure of their pieces so they'd be sure to start together.
``What we really want to do is make a big deal about all the dynamics, all the accents,'' Bastuscheck told the students. ``The adjudicators are going to expect to hear energy in accents, so do not disappoint them.''
And the orchestra didn't disappoint. The three adjudicators rated it superior. Other Juneau-Douglas High School groups receiving superior ratings were the Juneau Concert Choir, the Juneau Treble Choir, the Juneau Jazz Band and the Juneau Concert Band. Also receiving positive comments were the Juneau Vocal Jazz and the Juneau Symphonic Band. And Juneau violinist Hale Loufbourrow was among a few students asked to give a ``command'' performance.
Peter Griffin, a bassist in the Juneau Jazz Band, said he loved the festival. In a workshop on music theory, ``I learned so much stuff I didn't know before, and it's all stuff I'll use.''
Robbie Watson, an instrumentalist and singer at JDHS, said he got help in projecting his voice and how to listen carefully.
``If you hear the other performers better, you can stay in pitch better and work off of them,'' Watson said.
The festival ``reinforces everything we do all year,'' said Mike Webster, who directs the Skagway Jazz Band. ``The kids get to hear the experts saying the same things, and it gives us more validity.''
After Saturday's performance, adjudicator Dinah Lindberg Helgeson, a clinician and conductor in the Northwest and Canada, told the Sitka Vocal Jazz Ensemble she enjoyed their work a lot.
Helgeson drew from the students what they liked about their own performance - the body movement, the rhythm section. She told one student he was ``a gas'' to watch perform, and she shook the pianist's hand.
Then she asked them what they would do differently, and students said they needed to listen to each other and get away from anxiety.
Helgeson asked them to sing for her as she went over some phrasing. Her friendly attention had one girl twirling with excitement.
The adjudicator asked ensemble director Howey to try conducting part of the song only with his face and eyes. What was that like?
``Naked,'' Howey said.
``Do you know how much these kids love you?'' Helgeson asked.