Topeka high schools compete for ensemble spot

At the high school level, hard work and determination mean everything when working toward a goal that will affect the future, especially when that  goal is one that comes only to those who are practiced eloquently in their talent.

From all surrounding schools in the Topeka area, high school musicians tried out for a spot in the annual Topeka Youth Wind Ensemble.

Mark Norman, Washburn University director of bands, hosted the event for his third year.

“The previous director of bands started this ensemble about fifteen years ago,” said Norman. “It’s as short as one evening in the end and as long as a week to two months work of rehearsals.”

Sarah Labovitz, conductor of ensemble and the assistant director of bands at Washburn University, premiered her first performance with the students with two pieces: “Sun Dance” by Frank Ticheli and “Children’s Folk Song Suite” by Kevin Walczyk.

Cary Stahly, the ensemble’s guest conductor and director of bands at Seaman High School, also a Washburn University graduate, returned for his first performance with the students with three pieces: “Roller Coaster” by Otta Schwarz, “Pas Redouble” by Camile Saint-Saens and “Africa: Ceremony, Song and Ritual” by Robert W. Smith.

All pieces, according to the ensemble’s host were a mix of culture. There was no theme involved.

“We had a multitude of folk songs and rhythmic based pieces, an unplanned roller coaster, if you will,” said Norman.

Between the rhythmic sounds of the band and the sound effects from the band members, the Topeka Youth Wind Ensemble members kept the audience’s attention when their pieces required them to scream.

Connor Penton, Washburn Rural senior and first chair saxophone player, described the experience as worth it.

“Meeting new people and working with a new director every year has been a huge benefit to me as a musician,” said Penton.

Along with his peers, Penton claimed the experience is always exciting and new.

“There’s always something different musically,” said Penton. “It’s always riveting.”