Each year, more than 1,300 high school and around 1,200 middle level students audition for roughly 730 spots in the high school and middle level Honors State Music Project. The few who are selected to be part of the middle or high school band, orchestra, jazz ensemble or choir get the opportunity to perform at the Wisconsin State Music Conference in the fall.
The conductor of this year's high school honors band is none other than composer, University of Wisconsin - River Falls adjunct professor and Hudson resident Jack Stamp.
"There are a variety of emotions I felt when I was selected as the conductor for the honors band. To be selected in your new home state is kind of cool. I've never conducted that group before, but this is the first time I've done it here," Stamp said. "And because I don't have a regular band, like I did for 36 years of teaching, it is kind of nice to have a band of that quality to work with.
"Because of that, the music I selected was at a higher level than I normally get to do. It is also nice, since I've been here for a little while now, to make more connections with directors from across the state and to connect with and get to know kids."
Along with Stamp, three local music teachers were selected to be section coaches during the Honors State Music Project summer camp in June: St. Croix Central Middle School band director Kimberly Hopkins (honors band - low brass), River Falls High School band director Bryan Jaeckel (honors band - high brass) and Hudson High School band director Ryan McCarthy (honors orchestra - percussion). Each section gets its own coach to work with during sectionals.
"It meant a lot to me to be asked, as I never really thought I would have the opportunity. It has been a highlight of my career to work with this honors program."
This year's high school honors concerts will take place on Thursday, Oct. 26, while the high school jazz ensemble concert will take place on Friday, Oct. 27. The middle level honors concerts will take place on Saturday, Oct. 28. Students will arrive a day or so before their group performs to rehearse.
Having three section coaches from the St. Croix Valley, as well as the honors band director, says a lot about the quality of music education in the area, according to Stamp.
"It shows that there is good teaching, good music teaching, and that those directors are so dedicated to their craft and their students," Stamp said. "Directors coming from smaller districts around here — as well as the number of students who come from this area — versus the bigger ones in Madison and Milwaukee, it says a lot about the teaching. The level of support and commitment from both the students and teachers has to be very high for the programs to be as successful as they are. And it is all very organized as well, which is great to see."
And McCarthy couldn't agree more.
"It think it says a lot about the quality of educators that the local schools have. Bryan and Kim are some of the most dedicated educators I have ever met; they are 100 percent about doing whatever they can for students," McCarthy said. "I think this area of the state is lucky to have such dedicated people involved with their schools."
As highly as Stamp talks about the teachers and quality of music education in this part of the state, the music teachers feel the same way about having a composer and teacher of Stamps' quality in their backyard.
'Best students in the state'
Jaeckel and Hopkins are both in their second year of their two-year section coach commitment, while McCarthy is in his first year. Second year coaches are asked to nominate new coaches they think would be a good fit.
"It's incredible to work with the best of the best students in the state," McCarthy said. "These kids are incredible! Working with them is a thrill, and watching them come in at a high level and being able to push them to a higher level is incredible....I didn't become an educator for this kind of thing, but it is definitely a career highlight."
"But now that I'm getting older, the best part is getting the chance to hang out with the kids and get to know them. It was a terrific experience to hear what the kids thought about the pieces. It was heartening that the kids had such deep feelings about the pieces and not just the superficial things. They had deep feelings about why they did music and really amazing questions about music," Stamp said. "One of the mornings, the kids came with a list of questions for me and we just sat and talked about music for an hour. It was joyful to hear those questions and see their passion. You don't usually get that. I loved the interactions off of the podem with the kids."
According to Hopkins, auditions for the state honors groups are held in February each year and student results are sent out in late March. This year's summer camp was held at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. The final concert is held in the fall during the WMEA State Music Conference, which is attended by music teachers from all across Wisconsin.
"I'm looking forward to seeing the kids again, as well as working with the piece again since it has fermented for a few months, in a good way. Hopefully, we can bring it back and do even better with the performance and hopefully move the audience," Stamp said. "I don't want the audience to go, 'Oh, that was a great band.' I want them to be moved by the music we do. Somebody once told me that nobody comes out of an orchestra concert talking about how great the orchestra was. They come out talking about how great a specific piece was. That is what I want the audience to do for us."
According to Stamp, each group gets 45 minutes to perform, which made Stamp's selections for the high school honors band that much more important to him.
"Because I'm a composer, I chose one of the pieces I wrote for a college band out in Colorado. The piece on the concert that I think is the best was a gift to me when I retired and I saved it for a special group," Stamp said. "Even just working through the piece this last summer has to be one of my top 10 musical experiences I've had. It is one of the best music groups I've ever had because of the way the students bought into and latched onto the pieces. I'm very excited about doing it again."
Stamp's high school honors band will perform "Romanza" — the third movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams' fifth symphony — "Sketches on a Tudor Psalm" by Fisher Tull, "Gum-Suckers March" by Percy Grainger and a piece Stamp himself composed, "Tocsin." According to Stamp, tocsin means alarm.
The middle school honors students audition in April and receive their music over the summer to start practicing on their own. The group meets for the first time in October when they rehearse with the guest conductor for a day and a half before performing at the music conference.
"The most rewarding part of the camp, and this whole experience, was getting the chance to know these kids as people and musicians and not just these kids that are on stage that I'm trying to get to play music," Stamp said. "The kids then start to buy into it and start to trust me."
Honors State Music Project — Area Students
High School Level
John Haasch, New Richmond, Mixed Choir; Julia Miller, New Richmond, Band; James Nysse, New Richmond, Mixed Choir; David Postma , New Richmond, Alternate - Mixed Choir; Isaiah Baumgartner, Hudson, Mixed Choir; Mackenzie Farrell, Hudson, Band; Karsyn Garber, Hudson, Mixed Choir; Sophia Hawk, Hudson, Alternate - Treble Choir; Jennifer Holter, Hudson, Treble Choir; Ella Kluck, Hudson, Alternate - Treble Choir; August Krueger, Hudson, Band; Conner Renn, Hudson, Band; Maggie Smith, Hudson, Mixed Choir; Rebecca Tank, Hudson, Band; Dana Craig, River Falls, Mixed Choir; Grace Firth, River Falls, Band; Hannah Harper, River Falls, Treble Choir; Wesley Papp, River Falls, Alternate - Mixed Choir; Rowan Wilson, River Falls, Alternate - Band/Orch; Zachary de la Cruz, Amery, Mixed Choir; Kaleb Berning, Baldwin-Woodville, Mixed Choir; Talissa Chapin, Baldwin-Woodville, Treble Choir; KayLee Lokker, Baldwin-Woodville, Mixed Choir; Daniel Weninger, Baldwin-Woodville, Mixed Choir; Chase Gilbertson, Ellsworth, Mixed Choir; Cedric Kosnopfal, Ellsworth, Mixed Choir; Kayla Huerta, Somerset, Treble Choir; Jacob Wright, Somerset, Mixed Choir; Kjerstin Carlson, Prescott, Alternate - Band/Orch; Madeline Johnson, Prescott, Mixed Choir; Emily Magee, Prescott, Treble Choir; Delaney Radke, Prescott, Alternate - Treble Choir; Brandon Rundquist, Prescott, Alternate - Mixed Choir; Elliana Dodge, Osceola, Band; Ryan Rogers, Osceola, Mixed Choir; Sean Rogers, Osceola, Alternate - Mixed Choir.
Maggie Brown, Hudson, Choir; Erin Farrell, Hudson, Band; Brenna Forster, Hudson, Choir; Emma Hatch, Hudson, Choir; Ben Heckmann, Hudson, Choir; Claire Hockman, Hudson, Choir; Van Keech, Hudson, Alternate - Band/Orch; Sarah Kleiber, Hudson, Band; Emily Kleiber, Hudson, Orchestra; Nick McCarthy, Hudson, Band; Jackson Dvorak, Osceola, Orchestra; Brecken Styles, Osceola, Choir; Renee Vorndran, Osceola, Band; Olivia Milles, Somerset, Choir; Charlie Maier, Spring Valley, Alternate - Choir; Maxwell Larson, SCC, Alternate - Choir; Tyler Barnett, Viking Middle School, Orchestra.
RiverTown Multimedia reporters Gretta Stark and Katie Davidson also contributed to this story.