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Cottonwood High Musicians Earn Top Award in Western Festival

Jun 13, 2016 09:48AM ● Published by Julie Slama

Cottonwood High School vocal and instrumental students were all smiles in San Francisco when they won the top award for the best music program at the World Strides Heritage Festival. —Amber Tuckness

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com


Every spring, Cottonwood High instrumentalists take to the road to compete at a music festival. This year, however, they came back with a two-foot-tall trophy for earning the sweepstakes award, the best music program at the World Strides Heritage Festival in San Francisco.

“Every band performed on the gold level, so it was our best year,” Cottonwood instrumental director Amber Tuckness said. “There weren’t enough schools competing in orchestras, so our school wasn’t able to be rated or scored there.”

This year, with the festival dates being March 31 to April 5 and students having religious conflicts that weekend, fewer Cottonwood High students participated than usual. Of the 150 instrumental students and 110 in choirs, Tuckness said about 170 joined them this year to make up a jazz choir, women’s choir, full choir, jazz ensemble, orchestra and wind ensemble. 

“Usually, we take five choirs, but we had a number of students with conflicts. Many of the groups were combined and we held practices before and after school, so it really showed a lot of dedication to these students who committed to going to the festival,” she said. 

The choirs and instrumentalists prepared individually and together for the festival.

“We [choir director Cecil Sullivan and I] collaborate with each other and know that together, we can support and care about the students in the program. He was an instrumentalist, so a second pair of ears helps, and I help with his jazz choir and their rhythm, so it’s good we collaborate,” Tuckness said.

At the festival, three judges used a grading scale to combine their scores on the groups’ technique, tone, style, literature and other areas. The end number named them one of the top high school music programs and extended an invitation for Cottonwood High to perform at Carnegie Hall.

“It’s a great honor to be invited and we’ve been invited several times, but our school district policy is that we can’t travel that far,” Tuckness said.

The choir received silver-level marks and, in addition to Sullivan, was also directed by student teacher Spencer Olsen and assisted by Amelia Degraffenried, who teaches at Cottonwood High.

The women’s choir, which received second place, performed Handel’s “Svegliatevi nel core” from the opera “Giulio Cesare;” “I Loved You” by Jay Rouse; and “Nesta Rua,” a Brazilian folk song.

The jazz choir performed “So Nice (Summer Samba)” arranged by Steve Zegree and “Autumn Leaves” arranged by Ryan O’Connell. The concert choir sang “Pleasure Enough” by K. Lee Scott, “Cantate Domino” by Hans Leo Hassler and “Ceciliada” by Marcin Wawruk. Both choirs received third place.

Assisting Tuckness with the instrumentalists was student teacher Lauren Hennig. Wind ensemble won first place by performing two pieces: “March of the Belgian Paratroopers” by Pierre Leemans and “Fantasy on a Japanese Folk Song” by Samuel Hazo.

The jazz ensemble performed “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck and arranged by Calvin Custer; “My Funny Valentine Rodgers,” arranged by Dave Wolpe; and “Barnburner” by Les Hooper to earn their first-place finish.

The symphony orchestra, which received a gold rating, played “Hoe Down” by Copland; “In the Company of Angels” by William Holfeldt; “Bacchanale” from “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens and arranged by Merle J. Isaac; and “Quella fiamma che m’accende,” by Benedetto Marcello, which featured senior vocalist Ethan Andrel’s solo that earned him the festival’s Maestro Award.

Each group received a plaque, and the instrumental groups received gold-level certificates for their top performances.

The activities for the group, which included 18 chaperones, extended beyond performances as the 24 members of the music student planning board organized side trips and sightseeing to the Six Flags amusement park and zoo, Japanese Tea Gardens, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Alcatraz.

“We went to each other’s performances and had several extended family come to support them, which was fun since they don’t get to see them perform in Utah,” Tuckness said. “It really gives them a different audience, perspective and opportunity to perform.”  

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