Cougars rock the Smokeys

 Messenger photo by Sandi Latimer
 Music instructors at Westland High School display the awards they won at the Smokey Mountain Music Festival the weekend of April 25-26. From left, Brian Moore, director of the percussion ensemble with his group’s first-place award; Jeff Rone, director of choir’s, with the third-place award for the symphonic choir, and Courtney McCaleb, assistant band and orchestra director, with the first-place award for the string orchestra.

A spring weekend in the Great Smokey Mountains produced three trophies and several plaques and certificates for three musical groups at Westland High School.

Seventy-nine students who perform in the percussion ensemble, the string orchestra and the symphonic choir earned two first-place awards and one third-place award and certificates for outstanding performance for four sections in the strong orchestra and four outstanding individuals.

The students performed for the first time in the Smokey Mountain Music Festival at Gatlinburg, Tenn., the weekend of April 25 and 26.

The percussion ensemble, under the direction of Brian Moore, earned a first-place award for schools of their size, while certificates for outstanding performance were given to William Sleppy on the xylophone, Mike Harvey on the drum sets and Mariano Rebollar on timpani.

Courtney McCaleb’s string orchestra also earned a first-place award, while the violin, bass, cello and viola sections were given certificates for outstanding performance as did Travis Williams, the violin section leader.

The symphonic choir, which director of choirs Jeff Rone works with, took third place.

The music festival is held every year, "but this was the first time for Westland to participate," Moore said.

Entering the competition was the idea of Rone, who had heard about it when he visited there a year or so ago.

"Why can’t we enter?" he thought.

While he thought of taking the entire music department, he realized smaller groups would be more manageable. He worked through a travel agency for a bus and obtained a 26-foot truck to haul musical instruments and equipment and garment bags of performance clothing.

"Students were limited to one piece of carry-on luggage and one other piece of luggage," he said.

Ten adults and the three directors accompanied the students. The group left early on Thursday, April 24, and returned home early on Sunday, April 27.

Competition was set on one day at several locations, Moore said. Rone added that some of the students performed in more than one group.

His choir sings a lot of a capella, which he said is one of the harder performances. They sang two pieces a capella, or without accompaniment, and the third selection, a gospel number, accompanied by a pianist from the Gatlinburg area.

It wasn’t hard to obtain a pianist, he said, explaining that the network of music directors will give recommendations about good accompanists in the area.

"We rehearsed with the pianist for 20 minutes," he said.

Each group performed three numbers that showcased a wide range musical style, and in the case of the percussion ensemble and string choir, the accomplishments of the students on various instruments.

Students even had time to do some sightseeing, taking in such area attractions as the Dixie Stampede, Hard Rock Cafe and Dollywood.

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