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Freshman Abby Taliaferro and junior Theresa Kunau made the cut, being named Iowa all-staters for their instrumental music skills. They attend Maquoketa High School.

Maquoketa High School’s all-state music excellence remains strong despite a year of changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Two MHS students — Abby Taliaferro and Theresa Kunau — auditioned for all-state band this year. Taliaferro was selected as a first alternate on bass clarinet, meaning if another bass clarinetist was unable to attend the festival, she would go. For the second time, Kunau made all-state as a contra clarinetist.

Taliaferro, 15, is a freshman and the daughter of Theresa and Brad Taliaferro. She joined band four years ago. 

“It seemed like a lot of fun and I loved learning how to read treble clef before 5th grade, so I just went for it,” Taliaferro said.

Kunau, 16, is a junior and the daughter of Danielle Howell and Peter Kunau. She joined band six years ago because she thought the clarinet was “cool, and now I really enjoy playing.”

They are under the direction of MHS band director Matt Hovey.

2020 would have marked the 74th Iowa All-State Music Festival. Due to the pandemic, the celebratory festival event was canceled. However, students still auditioned for the festival to preserve their place as an all-stater in Iowa. Those who were chosen receive the same recognition.

“This is one of the most difficult feats for a high school music student,” Hovey said. “Only around 17% of those that audition are accepted to participate in the festival’s band, orchestra, and chorus.” 

Under typical conditions, Hovey, Taliaferro and Kunau would sit in a gym filled with students and teachers, waiting all day first to audition and then to await the results. Each audition typically lasted about five minutes.

COVID-19 changed it all.

This year, students had to prepare a video of their audition for review by the adjudication panel. Included in the audition are two etudes, an excerpt from a solo, major scales, and a chromatic scale. 

There were two major changes and challenges this year, Hovey explained. In addition to recording each segment, the students were required to play all 12 major scales for the audition (normally they would only play three — two selected from a stack of cards, and one by the student). 

“There is a lot more pressure on the students when we switch to a recorded audition,” Hovey said. “The pressure of getting a perfect “take” is very high. In the case of playing all your scales, you can’t help but think about messing up as you get to the final few scales, with the thought of having to go back and do it all over again because you miss one note out of several hundred.”

In addition to the mental endurance, there is also the issue of physical endurance and the muscles used to play an instrument, Hovey added. 

Each student ended up spending about an hour and a half recording their audition within guidelines set forth by the Iowa High School Music Association. 

Sound like a lot of work? It is, according to Taliaferro.

A lot of work goes into preparing,” said Taliaferro, who thanked her private teacher, Micki Marolf, for her guidance as well. “I’ve been learning my scales for two years now and they still aren’t perfect. That’s the long-term thing you have to learn beforehand. The etudes you have to learn aren’t easy either, which takes months to finally get them done. It’s stressful and you have to put everything you’ve got into it, but it’s so worth it in the end.” 

Auditioning for all-state required “many months and lots of emotion, especially this year,” Kunau said.