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UNI, high school students celebrate Tallcorn Jazz Festival

Published: Monday, February 21, 2011

Updated: Monday, February 21, 2011 13:02

The University of Northern Iowa was filled with energetic high school students from across the state as Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia's Beta Nu chapter hosted the 56th annual Tallcorn Jazz Festival Friday and Saturday.

More than 1,000 jazz musicians representing all four Iowa High School Music Association classes (1A-4A) packed UNI's Russell Hall to showcase the musical ability and teamwork that brought them to the highly competitive event.

"Each band gets a 20-minute performance and are stopped immediately, as well as penalized, if they exceed the time limit," said Andy Heard, a junior business management and communication double major and Tallcorn Festival co-chair. "We have four judges, two of which are clinicians, and they have ballots which they grade the bands on a thousand-point scale. At the end of the day, we have a team tally up the scores and the top three bands receive trophies. If you place in the top two, you will get a bid into the Iowa Jazz Championships."

The Iowa Jazz Championships are the ultimate goal for almost every high school jazz band in the state. Based on performance throughout the season, the IJC Board of Directors will hand-pick the finest ensembles in the state and extend an invitation accordingly. The 2011 Iowa Jazz Championships will be held on April 12 in Des Moines.

Beyond the competitive element, the festival also serves bands in their own development. Immediately following each band's performance they are led to a separate, smaller performance area, where they will participate in a 30-minute workshop with one of two esteemed clinicians.

The festival also serves as a great entertainment venue for a variety of audiences, from jazz enthusiasts to complete strangers to the art.

"One of the biggest reasons Tallcorn remains the oldest continuously running jazz festival in the nation is the partnership the event has with the SDIJ concert, and the phenomenal guest artists we bring in to perform." Heard said.

The Sinfonian Dimensions in Jazz Concert takes place both evenings of the festival and features performances by all three nationally acclaimed UNI jazz bands as well as the selected guest artist. Heard attributes the consistently high quality of guest artists to the efforts of Chris Merz, director of jazz studies at UNI, and praises Merz for always being willing to "go way out of his way to only bring in the highest-caliber musicians."

Alex Steines, a sophomore choral music education major and vice president of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, believes the festival also plays a critical role in recruitment for the School of Music.

"We open all of our doors, expose the students to some of our great faculty, and then showcase the best of the best in our UNI jazz bands, and that's what the student's remember," he said.  

Although Steines was never a participant in the festival, he explained that a large majority of Sinfonia, as well as a large portion of the School of Music, both instrumental and vocal, competed at Tallcorn during their high school years and "often call it as a deciding factor when it came to selecting a college."

Eric Angeroth Franks, a senior at Southeast Polk High School from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, has competed at Tallcorn all four years of high school, and says it really put UNI on the map for him.

"Tallcorn is a great jazz festival that always attracts great high school bands," he said. "Our school always has a great time getting to see other schools perform and participating in the clinic sessions. All in all, it's something students look forward to and work hard for all year, and the reputation of the competition is always upheld because of it."

Heard said a competition of this size and stature takes an immense amount of effort and organization, and he finds it's always best to start planning early.

"We've already got bands trying to register for next year, the committee starts meeting again on Tuesday, and we're already behind. I guess that's just how the game goes," he said.

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