Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Putting the band back together

SoHi band and choir rebuild after several years of interruptions

Soldotna High School’s band and choir programs ought to seek out the same caliber of awards and recognition as its sports do, according to director Mark Jurek. That’s what he’s working toward while leading a reconstruction of the programs in a post-COVID landscape.

When Jurek was brought on, he was initially in charge of directing the band and the choir.

“We’re the biggest high school in the district. All the other schools have dual fine arts music people, so I kind of started putting that into some minds,” he said. “Maybe we should have that here too.”

So this year Audra Calloway was brought on to direct the choir.

That allows both Jurek and Calloway to better focus on their groups and develop their goals.

“SoHi is known for our sports and our academics at that level,” Jurek said. “We want to help our music program … to get that same sort of awards, and recognition, and have students be just as excited about that as they are for the basketball team.”

Soldotna’s music programs were hit especially hard by the pandemic, he said. Programs were entirely shut down in the elementary and middle schools.

“For the past three years, we haven’t had any instrumental music or vocal music before ninth grade,” he said.

This has resulted in a challenging dynamic where the band has juniors and seniors who have played instruments for several years and freshmen and sophomores who either haven’t played at all or haven’t worked with their instrument in several years.

“Trying to balance that … that’s been tough,” Jurek said.

Another obstacle to building the band is that high schoolers are averse to embarrassment. Freshmen in high school picking up an instrument don’t want to be embarrassed by sounding bad.

“If you’re really starting out, you’re not gonna sound good,” Jurek said. Pushing through that has been difficult.

Fortunes are shifting, though, as Skyview Middle School has hired a full-time music instructor. Jurek said he hopes that will help to build a foundation that can be expanded upon at the high school level.

For those experienced performers, Jurek said he is keeping them challenged and developing by forming a jazz band — he said it was effectively their varsity group.

Having that band affords Jurek the opportunity to push harder and higher with their music.

This year, the band has all the necessary parts covered. The instrumentation is fairly standard, missing things like bassoon or oboe, but Jurek said the only real issues he’s facing with instrumentation are traditional issues that he would have any year at any school, like disproportionate representation in the flutes compared to other sections.

There are enough performers that if they are missing a part — Jurek gave a low bassoon line as an example — he can write the line into someone else’s part.

The next showing of Soldotna band performers will be next week, when nine members of the band represent SoHi at All-State Band. Stars traveling to Anchorage for the event will be Josiah Burton, Ashley Dahlman, Mya Fielden, Clare Henry, Nicholas Lopez, Madelyn Ross, Kristina Stoll and Abriella Werner

Earlier this year, both the band and choir played a fall concert in October. Mass Choir, which gathers choirs from around the area, happened the week after.

Looking forward, the Winter Concert will take place on Dec. 6. Jurek said it will feature a fun arrangement of “Fum Fum Fum.” A Solo and Ensemble exhibition will be in January and there will also be a “Dessert Concert” fundraiser in February. There will be at least one more concert toward the end of next semester.

Jurek said he would also like to see the band keep getting out in the community, be that the choir, the pep band, the jazz band or otherwise.

Find more information about the Soldotna High School Band and upcoming performances at Soldotna High School Band on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Members of the Soldotna High School Band rehearse on Oct. 11, 2022 at Soldotna High School in Soldotna Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Mark Jurek directs the Soldotna High School Band at a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022 at Soldotna High School in Soldotna Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Mark Jurek directs the Soldotna High School Band at a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022 at Soldotna High School in Soldotna Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Mark Jurek directs the Soldotna High School Band at a rehersal on Oct. 11, 2022 at Soldotna High School in Soldotna Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Photos by Jake Dye / Peninsula Clarion 
Members of the Soldotna High School Band rehearse Oct. 11 at Soldotna High School. Below, Audra Calloway directs the choir.

Photos by Jake Dye / Peninsula Clarion Members of the Soldotna High School Band rehearse Oct. 11 at Soldotna High School. Below, Audra Calloway directs the choir.

Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal Oct. 11 at Soldotna High School. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Audra Calloway directs the Soldotna High School Choir in a rehersal Oct. 11 at Soldotna High School. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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