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Festival Of Arts Gives Young Stars A Place To Shine

Thu., Jan. 16, 1997

Nobody flunked a Breathalyzer test. No guns were confiscated. No one spray-painted graffiti on the walls.

Unlike my own career as a high school trumpeter, nobody even got knifed.

In other words, not much happened at Spokane School District 81’s Festival of the Arts in the way teenagers typically make the news.

There were 500 of the city’s best young artists and musicians, pursuing excellence Tuesday in the Opera House.

Which explains why the media attention was obligatory but scant.

Hey, this was just an evening of terrific artwork and music - not some whoop-de-do rubber chicken basketball thrill fest between rival South Hill schools.

The 8-year-old arts festival is a gem, however, and it’s time it received the attention it deserves.

For the price of a new Ford Taurus, the school district creates an annual learning experience unique in the Pacific Northwest.

“People from Seattle and Oregon are looking to us to start one of their own,” says Kevin Hartse, a festival organizer and Shadle Park High School’s instrumental director. “The level of quality from the first year to now is unbelievable.”

Through a screening process, the most-talented student singers, artists and instrumentalists are selected from each high school. These dedicated kids eventually are paired with highly regarded professionals for two days of intense rehearsal and instruction. The event, postponed this year because of the November ice storm, climaxes with a free art exhibit and performance.

I wandered into the Opera House on Tuesday afternoon, skeptical about what to expect. But watching the intensity of the students - as they rehearsed their music and put the finishing touches on their art pieces - won me over.

Under the supervision of Seattle artist Liza vonRosenstiel, teams of students filled the Opera House lobby with an imaginative herd of customized elephants.

One elephantine flight of fancy featured bee and mosquito parts. A few elephants lighted up. A disco elephant had Elvis sideburns and a mirror ball. Another piece was a functional pachyderm coffee table, complete with salsa and chips.

“This represents man’s impact on the environment,” said Lewis and Clark High School senior Anderson Manly of a trash-filled elephant with human hind legs.

In the music room, where the orchestra was rehearsing, the scene was just as impressive. Oregon conductor Stephen Benham held his musicians in rapt attention as he told of the images that came to mind during a particularly sensitive passage of music.

“I think of my kids in the summer, completely oblivious to any pain in the world,” Benham explained. “When you have kids of your own, you’ll know what I mean.”

A smart-aleck cello player piped up: “Are you encouraging us to have children?” Everyone roared.

Who says education must be dull? This is what is so great about the Festival of the Arts. It gives our brightest young lights a venue where they can shine.

“These are our future doctors and lawyers and marine biologists,” says Kay Feely, the festival’s music production manager. “I live in fear every year that the district will ax it.”

Considering the massive amount of money funneled into secondary sports programs, sacrificing this once-a-year tribute to the arts would be unthinkable.

I only wish the district had had this when I was tooting my horn.

Of course, back then, music was a lot more dangerous. Just before going onstage for a concert by the Ferris High School band, the director told me to go fetch a fellow trumpeter who was goofing off down the hall.

So I ran over, grabbed him by the hand and felt the blade of the stiletto Tom was playing with all but slice off the little finger of my right hand.

Gushing blood, I sat out the concert getting 13 stitches in a hospital emergency room.

“Don’t worry,” I told my horrified parents. “Sometimes, you have to suffer for your art.”

, DataTimes

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