Three Viper band students are solo finalists

Kurt Wokoek

By CAMILLE SCHWEPPE, Vandegrift Voice

The transition to online school hasn’t slowed down Vandegrift band students from competing virtually in the solo competition. Earlier this month, VHS held the annual contest and semi-finals online. 

The contest is called “The VHS Band Solo Competition” and it’s the first time this contest was done virtually, with video entries. 

“Over the years, the solo competition has become a big deal in our band program,” said Mike Howard, director of bands at VHS. “With the level of performers we now have in our program, it’s a major accomplishment to be a finalist or semi-finalist in this event.” 

Students prepared their solos during the spring semester and soloists submitted their video entries on May 2. Judges determined semi-finalists, then finalists announced May 8, and the top three winners were announced May 12. 

Out of 303 band students who submitted a solo for the contest, only 11 musicians qualified for the semi-finals. The top three finalists were sophomore Nicole Immings and seniors Tobi Spitz and Kurt Wokoek. 

“Placing in the top three feels like an honor I don’t deserve,” Spitz said. “ It’s a wonderful gift.” 

Despite the uncommon circumstances, semi-finalists used it to their advantage to re-record and perfect their performances for submission as well as trying to settle their nerves. 

“I was able to record myself playing multiple times, allowing me to fix spots that might not have gone so well in previous recordings, and to pick which recording I sounded best in,” finalist Sophie Wills said. “Normally, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to do this, so I believe it allowed me to submit a recording better than what I might have played live, especially because this reduced my nerves that would be present in a live setting.” 

Tobias Photo

Even though there were some advantages to submitting a recording, wind musicians had one  disadvantage. Contrary to percussionists, the wind musicians receive a pianist to rehearse and perform alongside with, but the pandemic left them to perform alone.

“Although we learn and practice our solos mainly without a pianist, and then add them through a couple rehearsals the weeks coming up to the contest, the recording felt more empty,” Wills said. “It was a little awkward to wait through longer periods of rest without the sound of a piano filling in.” 

Seniors across the world have been denied many of their high school lasts, but the VHS band program has given their students an opportunity to end out their high school experience with the much anticipated competition. Spitz filmed his own contest video with help from his friend Jackson Hoopes.

Nicole Imming

“Jackson Hoopes and I have enjoyed filming and editing together videos ever since freshman year, so I thought it would be nice if we could do it one last time before we part our separate ways,” Spitz said. “I set my mind on making a good product out of my senior year and enjoy creating something with a friend, so even if the video wouldn’t advance, it was all to have fun.” 

The band student’s enthusiasm for the program has not been lost in the isolation of quarantine and it shows in their online performances. 

“I’m overwhelmed by the students’ ability to so successfully perform their solos given the constraints that have been put on us by school closures,” Howard said. “This time of adversity has really allowed our students to show amazing resilience. Their online solo submissions were just fantastic.”

Camille Schweppe is a graduating senior at Vandegrift. She has been a part of PALS, among other things, and enjoys singing, playing piano and writing/reading poetry.


2020 winners

1st Place – Nicole Imming, Flute

2nd Place – Kurt Wokoek, Trombone

3rd Place – Tobi Spitz, Percussion

2020 finalists

Chris Barreda, Tuba

Nicole Imming, Flute

Sarah Kutz, Oboe

Yuni Lee, Clarinet

Makoto Parchen, Euphonium

Paxon Porter, Trumpet

Izzy Ramirez, Percussion

Maci Simmons, Alto Saxophone

Tobi Spitz, Percussion

Sophie Wills, Flute

Kurt Wokoek, Trombone