Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 6, 2012

Average is the enemy

Youngest daughter Katie always enjoyed music, but it grew to be more than that during her Riley County middle school years, due in part to the influence of choir teacher Carey Zeak. Her freshman year of high school, vocal teacher Janie Brokenicky was hired and, by the time Katie was a junior, she had decided a career in music was in her future.

While husband Art and I both love music, during these past seven years, we have attended many music events that only the parents of children in music would be likely to attend. A good example was this past Saturday. The Kansas State High School Activities Association was holding its annual regional music competition These events involve soloists and small ensembles performing before a judge who determines if they qualify to attend the state contest. Participants do not compete against one another, but against a standard.

Katie is now in college, but since we came to know so many of the underclassmen from when she was in high school, Art thought it would be fun to see how they had progressed. So at 6:20 a.m., he embarked on the 90-mile journey to Concordia, Kansas, the site of the contest for our region.

Eight-minute slots were scheduled, the first beginning at 8 a.m. They continued until late into the afternoon with a break for lunch. If no one from Riley County was scheduled, he'd listen to students from other area schools.

When lunch time arrived, he headed off quickly to the local Pizza Hut, hoping to get there before one of the buses from a participating school flooded the place with youngsters.

But apparently other eating sites had been chosen and so it wasn't until he was finishing that he saw familiar faces. Janie and band teacher Katrena True arrived with Janie commenting that they both needed some "kid-free" time.

Janie is moving on to Tabor College at the end of this school year. With her leaving and Katrena completing only her second year, Art thought it would be fun to ask them a bit about their impressions of teaching music.

He began by asking why they had chosen this particular career. Katrena said teaching was about the only thing she ever wanted to do, "except for two weeks in the sixth grade when I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist. It wasn't until my junior year when I was talking to my band teacher that I realized that if I wanted to be happy every day, music should be what I taught."

Janie's course was different. Although she played the oboe in high school and sang, she expected to end up in business like her father and so began her college career as a math major. But at some point, she just felt as if part of her was dying without music. So she ended up as a double major and, along the way, turned her attention to teaching.

Asked if they enjoyed their work, both enthusiastically replied they did, but added that it was hard. Janie said the most difficult part for her was to not let her efforts to keep the bar high consume her. She said she thinks about how to improve things when she goes to bed at night and begins again when she awakens in the morning. Her goal is evident in a T-shirt her young musicians frequently wear that says, "Don't settle for average. Average is the enemy."

Katrena said her first year was just physically exhausting. She teaches fifth through 12th grades, and the hours with each student are long. Janie underscored Katrena's comment by adding that a person with a good voice who works hard can become an acceptable singer within a year, but no one becomes acceptably proficient with a musical instrument in that length of time.

To a large degree, both said the experience was what they had expected. But Katrena said that going from a large high school, such as the one she attended, to teaching in a small one - which was her choice - did require some adjustments.

"In a large school, if you are in music, you pretty much do music-related things all year. But in a small school, most students are into many things. So a student might not be able to meet with you because he has football practice or she is traveling with the basketball team," she said.

Janie smiled at Katrena's comment and said, "I was already familiar with that as I came from a small school. I was that student!"

Asked about the future, Janie said she is looking forward to moving on, but is also afraid she'll miss the high school students. Katrena said with this being just her second year, she wasn't looking down the road yet in terms of what she'd do.

But both agreed that the best part of their job is working with the kids and seeing them go from knowing almost nothing about music to knowing quite a bit.

And then it was time to leave for the afternoon sessions.

Often there are schedule changes due to students dropping out or not being ready. One of Janie's students had been assigned a slot late in the day and so was eager to switch to one that opened up right after lunch.

But as Janie accompanied him on the piano, Art thought she appeared to be concentrating particularly hard on the music. It wasn't until it was over that he learned why. The time change hadn't registered with his regular accompanist and so she wasn't there. Janie had to substitute, sight reading the piece on the spot. So it isn't always just the students who have the opportunity to show off their skills.

When the day ended, tired teachers and their students climbed into their buses and headed home. Some had done better than expected, while some did less so. But as a whole, the contingent from Riley County High School had done well. Ten individuals and five ensembles achieved a top rating. And so, in a few weeks, they'll get to do it all again at the state competition.

Left, RCHS Women's Choir at the 2011 regional contest at Concordia. The T-shirt on the RCHS student at far left says,"Warning: wearer may be subject to random outbursts of song," while his companion's shirt says, "I sing, therefore I am;" right, at this year's contest, soloist Jordan Swanson waits for the judge to signal he can begin.

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