Two years ago, band and choir students were rehearsing for the annual Howard County Music Festival.
Then the news broke. A COVID-19 case was recorded in Kokomo.
The plug was quickly pulled on the longest-running music festival of its kind in the country.
“Even though we had rehearsed the night before and that morning, we didn’t get to do the night concert,” said Max Johnson, band director at Taylor High School.
The show went on in 2021, albeit virtually. Band and choir directors agreed it was important to continue the long-running tradition.
Now, the music festival is back in person.
The 65th installment of the Howard County Music Festival kicks off at 7 pm tonight with the band portion at Taylor High School.
This year’s music festival is split into two nights, with choir on Thursday at Western High School.
The annual event showcases the musical talents of students from Eastern, Northwestern, Taylor and Western high schools.
“It’s a very big deal for our band and choir students in the county,” Johnson said.
This year’s two-night festival celebrates the return of in-person performances.
“It’s a time to rejuvenate the arts,” said Janel Baker, choir director at Western High School. “It’s something that’s always been valued in the county.”
The event is as much a learning opportunity as it is a way to show off the band and choir programs of the county schools. Band and choir directors use their connections to bring in guest conductors to work with the kids each year.
“We’ve had some really fun people who have written pieces for Howard County,” Johnson said.
This includes renowned composer Michael Sweeney, who produced “Wildcat Valley Fanfare” for the music festival in the past.
Rick Granlund, band director and performing arts department chair at North Central High School, will lead the band performance this year.
“He just has an amazing program,” Johnson said. “He’s the real deal.”
Choir students will be led by Ja’Shon Burks, choir director at Lafayette Jefferson High School.
The music performed is meant to be fun for both students and the audience.
Among selected band pieces will be “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”
“It’s a really fun concert,” Johnson said. “It’s always music the crowd gets into.”
Choir students will perform, among other pieces, “Sing Gently,” which was produced during the pandemic by composer Eric Whitacre.
Baker said the piece is meant for kids to think back to when they couldn’t perform together.
“The real goal is to do something that unites kids in the county,” Baker said. “They have been through the toughest time in music education.”
The choir program begins at 7 pm Thursday.
Tickets for each performance are $6 for adults and $4 for students. They can be purchased at the door.