Beyond excellence; Spring Grove dominates section music honors again

By : 
Lee Epps

“You are my MVP,” said judge Tom Haugen emphatically while pointing at Jonah Udstuen and his baritone saxophone. 

Other words of praise followed about that freshman musician and the other members of the Spring Grove saxophone ensemble, who had just completed an obviously stirring performance at the 2019 Section 1A Solo/Ensemble competition at Rushford-Peterson High School on April 9.

Best of the best times six

That saxophone ensemble received one of the coveted “Best in Site” (BIS) awards. 

With seven schools competing, Spring Grove students won six of the 10 BIS honors (amazingly surpassing last year’s 5 of 11).

Each judge stays in a site (room) for more than four hours as musicians rotate in, usually in 10-minute intervals. 

At the end of the evening, each judge determines a Best in Site (BIS) award for what he or she believes to have been the top performance of the day in that room (site).

There were 10 judges, five vocal and five instrumental. Spring Grove received four instrumental and two vocal BIS awards; that total of six was twice as many as Houston (3) while Chatfield earned the only other one. 

There were seven competing schools, including Fillmore Central, Lanesboro, Caledonia and host Rushford-Peterson,

The saxophone ensemble and the jazz band both had BIS performances. 

There were four BIS honors for solo performances. Amelia Solum – for the second straight year - was so highly honored for her flute solo.

 Other BIS went to two soprano vocals by Olivia Mendez (“Gretchen am Spinnrade”) and Ashton Towne (“Sure on the Shining Night”) plus Maria Myrah for her alto saxophone solo. 

Myrah, as part of the jazz band and the saxophone ensemble, was in on three BIS performances.

Excellence and beyond

Each performance is graded on eight factors, each worth five points, for a possible perfect total of 40 points.

Both the jazz band and the saxophone ensemble received a perfect 40 as did Wyatt Murphy and Kai Bjerke, each with a snare drum solo. 

In his written official notes for the jazz band, judge Gary Urness reiterated, “You deserved a score of 40.”

Each performance receives one of four overall ratings - superior (35-40 points), excellent (28-34), good (22-27 and fair (21 or below).

Of Spring Grove’s 39 instrumental entries, 36 received superior ratings and three were rated excellent. 

Among Spring Grove’s 39 vocal entries, 24 received superior certificates, and 15 earned excellent ratings. 

Last year, 70 percent of the Spring Grove performances (43 of 61) were rated superior. 

This year – even with significantly more performances – was even more astonishing with 77 percent of the performances (60 of 78) receiving that highest rating.  

The many and the amazing

There were 60 competing high school musicians from Spring Grove (grades 9 through 12) plus two very valuable student assistants – Cierra Blaskowski and Tristan Hammel - who video photographed each performance and kept up with the paper music and other organizational duties.

An astonishing number of Lions had multiple performances. Each is limited to six individual entries (three vocal, three instrumental), but competing in larger band or choir groups makes it possible for the total to surpass six. 

Several competed as many as five, six or even seven times. Freshman Tiffany Michels and freshman Hailey Borreson each performed an astounding eight times within four and half hours. (Fortunately, there was a half hour supper break.) 

Instrumentally, Borreson played both the flute and the guitar in addition to singing solos in two foreign languages - Italian and French.

In vocal presentations, Spring Grove students sang in a foreign language 14 times - seven times in French (including the Chamber Choir), five in Italian and two in German. 

Four students sang in two different foreign tongues - Mendez, Borreson, Ashlyn Hammel and Tiffany Michels.

In addition to singing a solo in French among his seven performances, freshman Wyatt Spier played three different instruments - bassoon, tenor saxophone and clarinet. 

There were two freshman sister/junior brother vocal duets with Tiffany and Alan Michels as well as Jordian and Payton Leahy.

More than students

The extensive participation and extraordinary success would not have been possible without invaluable assistance from several adults, including the piano accompanists. 

Back for a fifth year was Jean Ellingson, who accompanied 13 performances. 

Linda Gjerdrum was at the keyboard 14 times and Rachel Udstuen 15 times. Bethany Engen played for 23 different selections. 

And it all begins before competition day; there are a couple of weeks of practice sessions. 

The goal is 30 to 40 minutes of preparation between an accompanist and each performer.

Participation at section is a major task for the music educators to organize and accomplish. Willy Leafblad is in his fourth year as band director. 

Engen, a former “Best in Site” performer as a high school student in Spring Grove, is completing her third year as choir director at her alma mater, following six years at Rushford-Peterson.

Spring Grove’s year-after-year exceptional success at section is the result of not only hard-working and obviously talented students but also of the vision and inspiration of two dedicated music educators. 

Upcoming concerts

Community residents should not deprive themselves of the opportunities to enjoy such superb local talent. The Elementary Music Program is on Tuesday, April 30 at 6:15 p.m. 

The Spring Band Concert is Thursday, May 9, at 7 p.m. The Spring Choir Concert is Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m.