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Superior student hit a high note at state festival

by MONTE TURNER
Mineral Independent | May 29, 2024 12:00 AM

The seven student from Superior High School who competed in the state music festival in Helena earlier this month have raised the bar for student musicians.

“The most awesome part was that these students also received superior (score) ratings at the state district level, which is the first time all of my students have done that," said Debbie Merrill, music instructor for Superior School District. "We celebrated at a fun restaurant in Helena when we got the news before we headed back to Superior.

“I'm so proud of these kids. Performing at these high levels and succeeding is very difficult and they worked on their pieces for months.” 

The scoring platform is superior, excellent, good, fair and poor.  

“There is a point system and you have to get a certain score to get a Superior. When they receive a superior rating at district, then they get to go to the state level and get judged again by a renowned college professor etc.,” explained Merrill. 

The competition was stiff because at this stage, the cream of the crop is performing. 

“There are so many schools in the western part of Montana that I really couldn’t list them all. But we met kids from Boulder, Thompson Falls, Belt, Sentinel in Missoula, Helena High, and Big Sky,” she said. “Select professors and renowned musicians are hired to judge and work with the students in vocals, winds, brass, piano and strings. Students can compete as soloists or in ensembles.   

"All seven of our competitors made it as soloists, which is especially commendable since that is very difficult to accomplish. One student, Abby Wheeler, received superior ratings for both her oboe and piano solos,” Merrill said. 

Wheeler, who is a junior, is very humble, like most of the great ones in their field. 

“I think I am going to minor in music and play in my cities or college symphony or orchestra,” she said. 

When asked if other musical instruments have caught her eye, she said, “The bassoon or cello are appealing.”

The other students who made superior ratings are: 


Taylor Awbery, who graduates in 2025. “In college, I’m going to be in the marching band and hopefully a couple of concert bands.” Awbery’s long term plans are to move to California working as a translator in Mandarin Japanese, and Italian for international corporations.

Juliette Evans plays the baritone saxophone. “After high school. I really do plan on going to college and pursue my music career and, like Taylor (Awbery) said, become involved in the marching band and continue my career in music.” Being a sophomore, Evans has time to become even more proficient for scholarship applications. Having this award should be of great value.

Addison Martin is a junior and responded to the question of other musical instruments she found tempting. “If I hadn’t chosen the saxophone, I’d probably would have chosen the violin. Or piano. I really love the violin,” she said with a smile. “I want to be in the marching band at the UM like others here to pursue a stronger education in music. Concert bands, too but I’ll probably study art.”

Jenna Mellen is also a sophomore. “Hopefully, I’ll get into the music industry for singing. I’m currently working on my music career.” Mellen has plans to attend UM for her bachelor’s degree and then see where she is at that point.

And another 10th grade student who excelled is Lane DiGiando, “I do plan on continuing to play my instrument through college and as long as I can, pretty much. My plans for college are to major in political science and minor in music so I can continue my music education.” DiGiando made mention that if she wasn’t playing the clarinet, she would be with the bassoon which remains in the woodwind family but has a double reed.

The only male in this esteemed group is senior, Jason Merrill, who played the saxophone. “My plans after high school are to go into the National Guard and study mechanical engineering for my bachelor’s degree. I don’t really plan to purse music beyond high school, but that might change and I could see myself in a community band, maybe.” Having your mom as your music instructor had to have been an interesting journey, for both.

A couple of the students had just returned from the Business Professionals of America Nation competition in time for their final concert of the year that was held on May 15.