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Regional school music festival back in Dillingham after three-year hiatus

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Avery Lill, KDLG
Vocalists from across Region 1 sang in the festival choir.

Students from western Alaska filled the Dillingham high school gym with music this weekend. The three-day Alaska School Activity Association’s Region 1 music festival was a mix of competition, rehearsal and performance that culminated in a concert on Saturday.

The festival choir, guitars, and band combined musicians from Bethel, Deering, Dillingham, Nome and Unalakleet schools.

“The capacity of the children in Region 1, and the capacity for caring that is in the local directors, choral directors, band directors and music teachers, it is just fabulous,” said the festival band director, Tracey Gibbens from Duluth, MN.

Avery Lill, KDLG
The ASAA Region 1 festival band played in the Dillingham high school gym Saturday night.

Gibbens said it’s especially impressive that the festival band and choir pulled off their performances Saturday because they only had half the time planned to practice together. The plane from Bethel was delayed on Thursday, so Bethel students didn’t make it to Dillingham until Friday afternoon.

“We gave them a standing ovation twice when they came in, just because it was so good to see that they were here, and they were a wonderful impact on the rest of us,” said Gibbens.

Several Dillingham students qualified for the State Solo & Ensemble Music Festival in May.

“I'm feeling very confident,” said Erin Martin, a Dillingham senior who qualified to state with her vocal performance. “I have a lot of work to do, but I think I can get that done.”

Robert and Kylie Cleveland of Deering perform on guitars.

After a three-year break from the regional music festival, due to the pandemic, educators and students said it felt good to be back. Brandon Smith, the Nome Public Schools music director and former Dillingham music director, thinks returning to this festival was healing for students who are still wrestling with the pandemic’s upheaval.

“We're seeing that a lot in our schools where life seems optional a lot…This is a story of resilient kids overcoming and saying, ‘No, I'm going to be here and I'm going to make music,’” said Smith.

Dillingham Soprano, Raelin Roque, said that she practiced singing at home by herself at the height of pandemic restrictions. The 16-year-old said it felt great to be back singing with other people and to have an audience cheering in the bleachers.

“I didn't think many people would show up, but I'm happy that a lot of people did, and it was great,” said Roque.

Avery Lill, KDLG
ASAA Region 1 festival choir