<b>YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea</b> - Seoul American High School musicians will travel to Tokyo April 19 for the week-long Far East Music Festival.

Sixty-five band and choir members will join their counterparts from other Department of Defense Dependent Schools in the Pacific at the annual festival to be held at Yokota Air Base located outside Tokyo.

Those 64 - 28 band, 25 choir, nine string members, one guitarist and one pianist - earned the lion's share of the 180 slots available. Seven earned first-chair positions in the band.

"We are blessed with talented and motivated students here," said Irene Lee, Director of Seoul American's band and strings programs.

Each year, DODDS-Pacific holds weeklong Far East events that take the top-performing students in their sport or activity. Though mostly known for sports events, Far East Activities also includes journalism, science and humanities and Model United Nations.

With 180 students gathering for a week of practice sessions and concluding with a two-hour concert, Far East Music is the largest of the activities.

"What makes Far East Music very different from other events is the kids compete for the slot," said Lisa Riehle, Seoul American High's choir director since 2003. "That is their competition, and it's more of an individual competition. When we go to Far East, we don't compete. We work together with musicians from other schools to create a beautiful performance, which is our final championship."

Each musician auditioned in February, and recordings were judged by an independent panel of professional musicians.

"Each student had a prescribed set of material they had to practice," Lee explained. "The students performed two different exercises. One was slow to show musicianship and how much emotion they can put into it. Another was more upbeat and technical."

Percussionists, though, auditioned on six different instruments. Three of Seoul's advanced percussionists placed in the top four percussion chairs.

Choir members recorded scale passages, flexibility exercises and a prescribed four part vocal composition. They recorded their voices against background music and other vocals to test how they can hold their parts, Riehle explained.

A string ensemble is new to the music festival this year. Seoul American has the only high school string program in the Pacific, directed by Lee, and nine of the 10 players earned spots.

"We have a lot of talented string players here," said Lee, who has taught at Seoul American for 17 years. "We have an advanced group and they perform for lots of functions."

Olivia Wenzel, 18, is one of them. She's played the violin since she was 12. "I'm really excited," she said. "We worked so hard to make the audition tapes and it paid off. We've heard how great Far East is, so it's great that we finally get to go."

Riehle and Lee are justifiably proud of their students.

"We can't take credit for it all," Riehle said. "The kids have worked hard, and the parents' support just makes it easier for us. They're willing to take the extra challenge. The reward is a wonderful trip and a wonderful musical experience."

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Page last updated Tue April 8th, 2008 at 02:21