Austin Sorenson, a junior at Fort Dodge High School, took his place in front of vocal music judge Michael Gossen Saturday morning during the Iowa High School Music Association State Solo/Small Group Festival.
He took a deep breath and began singing.
“Oh, Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling …”
While the piece is usually associated with Irish tenors, Sorenson, who is not Irish, picked it for different reasons.
“I love how it moves,” he said. “It’s a beautiful song.”
Sorenson was able to interpret the song in his own way.
“No one ever does it the same,” he said.
His mom, Rhonda Sorenson, said that getting him to practice was not something she had to do.
“He drives himself,” she said. “I support him.”
She loves listening to her son sing.
“On the way here this morning,” she said. “I said sing it one more time.”
The festival features other musical disciplines including orchestra, piano, choir and band.
Some students perform solo, like Sorenson or in small groups like the snare drum trio of Hope Hugghins, Stefan Crowl and Tyler Alachniewicz from Fort Dodge.
Before facing the judge, Hugghins shared the best case scenario.
“You do really good and get a 1 rating,” she said. “We got a 1 last year.”
Her father, Ted Hugghins, was on hand to help, he was guiding students, including his daughter’s group, into the warm-up room before they performed.
“I’m proud of her,” he said.
While the trio has been working intently on the pieces they performed for several weeks, as classmates, they’re familiar with each other’s playing styles.
“It’s really about a group dynamic,” Crowl said.
“We know that we would go together well,” he said.
As they practiced their pieces, Crowl offered a suggestion.
“We need to focus on our dynamics,” he said.
A few minutes later, the judge, Pete Jacobus, of Glenwood, agreed when he gave them their feedback.
“Let your range of dynamics get huge,” he said.
Of course, once the trio finished, they had one advantage over the other competitors, since they performed in the bandroom, putting their drums away meant merely placing them in the corner.
“It’s our home turf,” Crowl joked.
Mike Richardson, Fort Dodge Senior High School director of bands, said almost 70 of his students participated.
The competition offers a chance for the musicians to perform in a different environment and for new people, he said.
“They get out of their comfort zone,” he said.
Richardson stressed that it’s a valuable learning tool that can make them better musicians.
“It’s not about the rating, it’s about the improvement.” he said.
Marshalltown sophomore Eric Weinberg took a few minutes in the gym to practice a bit before his performance. He said he was ready and confident.
He’s been working on perfecting his piece for two months and was looking forward to what the judge, with a new set of ears, had to say.
“They have a different way of looking at things,” he said.