Musicians shine at Far East fest
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – To just audition for the Far East Modern Music and Jazz Festival, let alone qualify for it once, is quite an achievement.
But to audition and qualify in four consecutive years for the DODEA-Pacific-sponsored festival? That’s beyond amazing. Well, Jacqueline Puskas, a senior at Humphreys High School in South Korea, achieved that during the event held Nov. 27-30 at Kadena High School.
“This was an experience I will never forget,” Puskas said after completing her fourth trip to the event.
She extended thanks to what she called the “amazing” directors, instructors and fellow musicians around her to help further “this amazing opportunity.”
The four-day event included 56 total musicians from 11 DODEA-Pacific schools in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Guam, who were mentored by teachers from those schools who specialize in those music categories.
And those 56 were selected from one of the largest fields of auditioning musicians in the 10-year history of the event – 182.
According to DODEA-Pacific Far East Fine Arts Director Nathan McCoy, those 182 musicians put together an audition tape.
“They are judged by teachers at different schools who each have music degrees,” McCoy said, adding the students are given feedback, whether selected or not.
Once on the ground at Kadena, 48 total choir and jazz musicians engaged in three days of rehearsals before the grand finale took place Nov. 30 at the Kadena High School auditorium.
The jazz choir delighted the audience with renditions of classic songs like “Birdland,” “Moonglow” and Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing.”
Then the horns, woodwinds, percussion, xylophone and upright bass musicians played spirited renditions of “Salt Peanuts,” “My Romance” and “Harlem Nocturne.”
They finished with “Deck The Halls With Bones and Saxes” by Andy Clark, and even a pop tune: “Uptown Funk!”
Seven musicians were selected for the festival’s garage band, which performed twice – leading off the Friday finale, and also a 45-minute concert at the famed Ferris wheel four-corner intersection of Okinawa’s American Village.
The garage band adopted the name “Sound Check” and even had its own patch, designed by Kubasaki senior vocalist Faith Lee and embroidered by the garage band’s lone returner, Kadena junior vocalist Sabrina Wrachford.
Sound Check featured seven musicians, most of whom had never met in person before the festival. Wrachford knew Kadena sophomore guitarist Brett Davis, and Guam High’s sophomore bassist Brandon Rivera and junior drummer Tatsuro Ito knew each other. Yokota senior Smith Frost played keyboard and Robert D. Edgren freshman Terence Cunningham played guitar.
Unlike the other musicians, “Sound Check” musicians worked with each other before the festival, using “Google Hangouts” to communicate and decide on music.
There was just one requirement by festival elders – they had to write and perform one original song. Theirs was called “I Know You Hate to Dance.” The band also played a blend of old time hits such as Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” and today’s sounds, such as “Look What I’ve Found” by Lady Gaga from the movie reboot “A Star Is Born.”
“Black Hole Sun” left the most people talking. Davis stepped to the mic to do a solo of the chorus and sounded like Chris Cornell, Soundgarden’s late vocalist.
“If I’m going to do this Cornell tribute, I might as well do it well,” Davis said. “This week has been fun, playing music all week with these guys.”