All-Aroostook Music Festival hits high note

17 years ago

    FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine – Band and chorus students from throughout the region were in tune and on pitch last Saturday as they showcased their talents at the All-Aroostook Music Festival.
    Sponsored by the Northern Maine Music Educators Association (District 7), the annual concert was held at the Fort Fairfield Middle-High School gymnasium.
According to the school’s band director Robert Helstrom, students had to compete in order to be invited to attend the All-Aroostook Music Festival.
“Auditions were held Dec. 3 at Houlton Junior-Senior High School, and a pair of judges for each discipline followed a very strict set of criteria,” he said. “Everyone was given a rating between 1 and 100. The number of students chosen depended on what they needed to balance the group.”
The middle school chorus, middle school band, high school chorus and high school band each performed three or four songs that were selected by guest directors and conductors.
Adam Scarpone served as the All-Aroostook Middle School Chorus guest director. He is the director of choirs at Marshwood Junior High School in Eliot, and currently directs chorus, chamber choir and faculty choir.
“This is my second year in a district festival,” said Scarpone. “You go into teaching to connect with kids, and these festivals allow you to connect with kids that you’d never have the opportunity to connect with otherwise.
“It’s a really powerful experience for the students,” he said, “and it’s a learning experience for myself. When you teach the same kids every day, they get to know you and you get to know them, but it’s kind of nice to be put in a situation where both of you are new to each other and see how they respond to your techniques. It lets you hone in on what works and what doesn’t work … a way to evaluate my teaching style.”
On Friday, Scarpone worked with the northern middle school chorus for six hours. He said it’s the element of surprise that makes the Festival so interesting.
“You never know what you’re going to get until you get there,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a prepared choir of dedicated students, and it’s really tough to work with a group of students who aren’t prepared, but these kids were really well prepared and were right there with me when I needed them to be. I couldn’t ask for more.”
One of the four pieces Scarpone led the students in singing Saturday was “Can You Hear?”
“It’s one of my favorites, and it’s really engaging,” he said. “There’s a lot of percussion, it’s upbeat, really singable and the kids seemed to enjoy it.”
During his five years at Marshwood, his choruses have had the honor of participating in performances with the South Berwick Community Choir, and Portsmouth music has led him to such positions as choral manager for the York County Junior Music Festival, and director of Chamber Music at MSYM, a summer music program for junior high and high school students.
Scarpone said he enjoyed this year’s Festival, and hopes to continue serving as guest director.
“This gets my foot in the door and allows me to start getting involved with these festivals,” he said. “I’d love to continue doing it. It’s wonderful.”
Tyler Delano is an eighth-grade chorus member from Houlton Junior-Senior High School. This was his second All-Aroostook experience.
“It was fun last year to be able to get with people who are really dedicated to it, and I wanted to do it again,” he said. “We only spent about a week on the songs, including some class time. I also went over it home, so it became pretty familiar.”
Molly Bouchard, a sophomore at Caribou High School, has been in All-Aroostook since the sixth grade.
“I find that every year I learn a little bit more about music, and when I come, everyone is on the same level,” said Bouchard. “We enjoy music and we’re all passionate about it.”
Bouchard, who takes voice lessons, said she and her instructor went over the songs ahead of time. Having performed in front of large audiences before, Bouchard said she doesn’t get too nervous before show time.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” she said. “It’s a breeze to me now.”
Madelyn Carson, a freshman at Presque Isle High School, has been in All-Aroostook since the sixth grade.
“I like getting to know a whole bunch of kids who all want to achieve the same goal, and all learn more about music and perform,” she said. “The only real difference between a regular school concert and All-Aroostook is that there are more kids who want to do this and want to be here as opposed to some kids who are doing it because their parents wanted them to.”
Delano, Bouchard and Carson all want to keep auditioning for All-Aroostook throughout their high school years.
“Every year you learn more,” said Delano, “and I think it’s going to be great for the future.”
“I’ve learned a lot of Hebrew,” Bouchard said. “One of the songs was all in Hebrew. It was a challenge, but interesting.”
Carson said she learned about working together as a group.
“I learned a lot about blending, and that it’s a lot different to do things in groups than solos,” she said. “I learned a lot about working as a group instead of an individual.”
Among the schools represented at this year’s All-Aroostook Music Festival included Caribou, Fort Kent, Central Aroostook Junior-Senior High School, Southern Aroostook Community School, Limestone, Union 122, SAD 29, SAD 70, Easton and Presque Isle.
Other guest conductors and directors were Craig Skeffington, Brad Ciechomski and Erin Lowell.
The All-Aroostook Music Festival was last hosted by Fort Fairfield Middle-High School in 1998.