Festival notes skills of young musicians

About 75 children participated in the festival, representing seven area piano teachers.

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WALLA WALLA -- Ilene Tyler asks the young students a question about a song.

"A song about a boy who stuck a feather in his hat," Tyler offers as the hint.

The children appear to have the answer on the tip of their tongues. But when none can summon the nursery rhyme, Tyler leads them in a quick sing-along.

"Do you know what macaroni means?" she asks. "It means dressed up. It doesn't mean mac and cheese."

The "musical Jeopardy" exercise was among several events focused on music knowledge, and part of the annual ribbon festival put on by the local chapter of the Washington State Music Teachers Association.

Held Friday at Pioneer United Methodist Church, the yearly festival is a chance for local private music students, primarily those training in piano, to put their music and performance know-how to the test.

For a $6 participation fee, the students got a chance to earn ribbons in a variety of categories that included performing, ear training, sight-reading and assorted games like the musical Jeopardy. As a bonus, each right answer during the game was rewarded with a small, sweet treat.

The challenges varied in scope and difficulty, depending on the students' level.

About 75 children participated in the festival, representing seven area piano teachers, said Marcia Wilke, an event coordinator and local piano teacher who has taught privately for more than 40 years.

The participants' age varied as well, although most were in elementary school. Wilke's said there was at least one 5-year-old participant and that middle school students were also represented. A few high school students helped run the day's events.

The number of children participating was a testament to the vibrancy of music instruction in the Valley. Wilke said even though seven teachers participated in the ribbon festival, there are closer to 20 working in the area.

Wilke said Pioneer United is among a few churches that have opened their doors to host past ribbon festivals. Trinity Baptist Church in Walla Walla and College Place Presbyterian Church have also been past supporters.

"We look for decent pianos," Wilke said.

In Pioneer's main church hall, a small audience of parents, friends and children occupied the pews while students took turns at the piano. Each student played a scale as a warm up, then played a solo and concluded with a duet.

John Neal, 11, was accompanied by a small hand drum, played by an older student, while he played a jazzy piece to complete his performance.

As he looked for an activity to do in the game area, Neal said he particularly enjoyed jazz music, but liked playing the piano.

"It's fun," he said.

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