Music Fest Will Go On -- Virtually

One of the busiest days on the Central Methodist University campus each spring is the annual Music Fest competition. In a typical year, as many as 3,000 students from dozens of middle schools and high schools across the state gather in Fayette to showcase their musical talent. Every available room and space on campus turns into a music classroom, where Central professors and other judges give feedback to all the young musicians and vocalists.

Of course, not much has been typical about the 2020-21 academic year. But Music Fest will still go on -- just without bringing those thousands of students to Fayette.

“There’s no way we can bring kids to campus for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Dori Waggoner, chair of the fine arts division at Central. “But what we’re seeing from our colleagues at middle schools and high schools is that their [jobs of teaching music in the pandemic] are harder than ours.”

Waggoner says that at this point in the school year, music teachers and band directors are all “looking for a goal” for their students. Schools have been holding virtual concerts, recording performances for family and friends to watch on their own time in lieu of packing gyms and auditoriums with spectators. But in between the winter and spring concert seasons, those students usually have a competition like Music Fest to focus on. Luckily, the music department at Central was ready to step up to the task.

Along with Music Fest fellows Austin Bristow and Austin Schaedler and music department administrative assistant Lynette Beeler, the faculty came up with a virtual solution to continue the tradition. Middle school and high school students are now hard at work learning their music pieces for the event, and sometime before March 5 their director or instructor will record their final performances and upload the videos privately to YouTube. On March 5, CMU music classes will be canceled for the day, giving faculty members the full day to judge the recorded performances and give feedback to the young musicians and vocalists.

“The response has been pretty strong. Not as big as a normal Music Fest, but it is more than the faculty can judge on our own in a day,” said Waggoner, adding that several former adjuncts and retired professors have been called upon to pitch in on the judging effort. She expects that the virtual nature of the event will facilitate those efforts, especially for the judges who would otherwise not be able to return to Fayette.

Waggoner says she will miss getting to see all the students and directors in person this year, as well as the “positive energy” of having so many on campus excited about music-making, but even in a virtual setting the event will have a positive impact.

Historically, Music Fest has been held with three main objectives for the university in mind: fundraising, recruiting, and service to the music profession. And while fundraising and recruiting will still be a part of this year’s event, just on a more limited basis, the real focus is now the latter goal.

“This year, service to the profession is our focus,” Waggoner said. “These are our future CMU students, so we still need to do that outreach. We’re seeing our colleagues at the middle schools and high schools working so hard to keep school and music a positive and wonderful experience for kids, and if this is a little thing we can do to make their jobs easier, then that’s great for everyone.”

More than 30 schools are currently signed up to participate in the event, with just a few weeks left for students to perfect their pieces.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from directors,” said Waggoner. “They’re really glad we’re doing this, and they’re excited the kids have something to work toward. And it’s been fun for us as well.”

The fun will continue through March 5, when judging is completed and results will be released at 5 p.m. for performers from the following schools (Central alumni serving as band and/or choir directors for their schools are listed):

Bevier, Boonville – Kyle Donnelly, Brashear, Bueker MS (Marshall) – Sara Summers and Shawn Thompson, Brunswick, Bunceton, California MS, Chester Boren MS (Centralia), Christian Chapel (Columbia), Eldon,

Elsberry – Rebecca Cooper, Fayette – Vanessa Miner, Fulton – Laurey Railton and Kelly Neudecker, Hale, Hallsville – J. West and Susan Lewis, Knob Noster, Macon, Marion County, Mexico – Sarah Murdock and Josh Yancey, Norborne – Daniel Long,

Odessa, Our Lady of Lourdes (Columbia) – Sarah Nolke, Paris, Principia (St. Louis) – Jonathan Daniels, Renick, Salisbury -- Michael O’Neill and Micheal Williams, Santa Fe – Sam Gaddy, Scotland County, Smith Cotton (Sedalia), South Callaway,

St. Joseph Catholic (Salisbury) – Nylah Beach, St. Pius Catholic (Moberly) – Kelly Head, Sturgeon – Dominic Lehman and Cal Bergthold, Tipton, and Westran.

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