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Ukiah Unified’s Music Programs Resume In-Person Concerts

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The following is a press release issued by the Ukiah Unified School District:

After nearly two years to the day, the Ukiah Unified music department hosted two in-person holiday shows in mid-December 2021. These two performances mark an important milestone on our community’s journey forward.

“The holiday performances provided many of our kids their first experience performing on a stage in front of a huge audience, and the kids were amazing! I am so proud of them,” said Ukiah High School (UHS) and Pomolita Vocal teacher Joshua Small. “Getting on stage just felt right. Having the electricity of the audience right there with the kids all suited up was really nice. We’ve come a long way since the Zoom classes of last year!”

Mr. Small explained that preparation for this performance has been more difficult than pre-pandemic years. Performance nerves, songs, parts, lights, warmups, choir gowns; it’s a lot to accept and work through. Older UHS students remember how performances happened before the pandemic, and they helped guide the younger students. Middle school students were in a more demanding situation. Mr. Small described them as having a clean slate. “Many have never been on a big stage, and some have never been in a choir, and they rose to the challenge with a beautiful performance.”

The UHS Choir’s Tinsel performance was exceptional with pianist Janice Hawthorne Timm, videographer Kirk Fuller, sound by August Kaster, and lights by Steve Wilson. “It was a great way to come back,” said Small. “I want to thank everyone who worked together to make this happen.” 

Ukiah High music students were excited. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but it was a lot of fun to sing and perform with my friends again, said UHS junior and vocal student Meka Shibata. “Some of us were scared, but Mr. Small has such a huge positive energy that it gives us the confidence to perform at our best.” 

UHS junior and member of the Bass Chorus Alex Marin said, “At first, the energy on stage was a little intense, but we quickly relaxed, and it was even more fun as the performance went on.”

Mr. Small plans to build on the foundation they’ve made. “The first performance is always a big push, and after that, we really dig in and work on improving and learning from our experience. We plan on having at least two more shows this school year in February and May 2022. We will continue to sing good music, sing beautifully, and share it with the community!”

Audrey McCombs, Ukiah High School Band teacher, said performing in front of people with the kids was a rush. “Getting back on stage was familiar but at the same time new and exciting! The goal for a high school band is generally a great performance, and the performance is what motivates the kids to do well and focus. If you don’t have that motivating factor, she said, it can be easy to fall off your practice schedule. “When our goal became the live performance, it was huge for our kids, and they stepped up and sounded great!”

One audience member said it felt like an honor or a gift to hear the band. “Wow, look at people making music together. It was something we’ve all missed so much. It feels so special to see live music again.”

“The biggest challenge for our music program is finding new musicians, and we haven’t been able to recruit for two years now,” said Ms. McCombs. “The pandemic was tough, and our numbers are way down. Pre-pandemic, we had 54 kids in the advanced band, and now we have 28.

If you are in high school or middle school and want to play an instrument or learn to sing, it’s never too late. “I didn’t start playing tuba until I was a sophomore in high school,” said McCombs. “Since then, I’ve played from Durham Cathedral in England to the Macy’s Day Parade.”

The next performances will happen this spring, and Ms. McCombs has some fun planned for her students. “We’re hoping to take some of the kids to see the San Francisco Symphony perform Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring,” she said. “There’s nothing better than getting to experience live music!”

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
Picking Brains—Baring Bones—Playing it By Ear: I'm a reporter in Mendocino County and the Founder of MendoFever.

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