Friday, April 12, 2024

Royal music students strike holiday note

Staff Writer | December 11, 2023 5:08 PM

ROYAL CITY — Holiday music both traditional and contemporary was in the air as the Royal Middle School and Royal High School bands and choir performed Wednesday evening in the Royal High School gym.

The performers numbered 159 between the seventh- and eighth-grade bands, the high school choir and high school concert band. Music teacher Erich Mietenkorte, who directed the concert, said he starts working with the students in seventh grade.

“I have high expectations for them,” said Mietenkorte. “Because I believe that they deserve high expectations, just like at a bigger school. Even though we're a small 1A school in a rural community, they deserve the same expectations as anywhere else.”

The seventh-graders performed first, starting with a booming, stately piece called “Defender of Time,” and moving on to “Christmastide,” a simple but intriguing medley of “I Saw Three Ships,” the French carol “Patapan,” “In Dulci Jubilo” and “Deck the Halls.”

Percussion played a strong role in both the seventh-grade band’s selections as well as several other concert pieces during the concert. Besides the concert band class, Mietenkorte teaches a percussion ensemble class and another for wind instruments, both brass and reeds. That makes the learning more efficient, he said, and also gives him a full drum line to take to the Royal football games.

“In our next concert, we're going to feature our percussion ensemble for a few pieces as well,” Mietenkorte said. “It’ll be nice for them to kind of go out on their own and show the audience what they can do by themselves.”

The percussion then blazed through the eighth-grade band’s first piece, entitled “Fortius.” The eighth-graders' second selection, “Merry Wayfaring Stranger,” brought back “Patapan” and wove it together with the traditional songs “Wayfaring Stranger” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” which swirled back and forth between the haunting strains of the former and the joyous tone of the latter.

The high school choir, all 14 of them, gave voice to “Everywhere Christmas Tonight,” a song of eager holiday anticipation, then came back down with “Snow on Snow,” a serene number that gave the feeling of flakes softly piling up. The choir finished off with “Have a Merry One,” a festive contemporary song interspersed with snippets from “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Mietenkorte explained that there was a pattern to the music he picked for the concert.

“First of all, I want a piece of music, especially for a Christmas concert, that people are going to recognize, that people are going to enjoy,” he said. “We are playing for an audience. But at the same time I'm selecting music that, when I give it to them, they can't play it. I don't want them to be (already) able to play it, because I want them to grow into it.”

The last and largest group to perform was the high school concert band, a 64-player ensemble that included oboe, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone, trumpets, trombones, euphonium, tuba and a 12-member percussion section. The band’s first selection was “The Three-Minute Nutcracker,” which reeled from one movement of Tchaikovsky’s two-hour-and-15-minute ballet to the next movement in the space of, yes, about three minutes.

“It's really funny because my students were unfamiliar with ‘The Nutcracker,’ most of them,” Mietenkorte said. “So being able to play that piece and introduce them to a little bit of that culture, into a ballet, we looked at ‘The Nutcracker’ itself, and understood that a little bit better.”

“The Three-minute Nutcracker” wasn’t the students’ favorite when he first introduced it, Mietenkkporte added, but by the time they were ready to perform it, they really liked it.

The high school band concluded on a more traditional note, with a rendition of “Carol of the Bells.”

Mietenkorte said some of his students do go on to pursue musical careers, but the ones who don’t have still gained a valuable experience.

“You know, they might not remember all the concerts or all their notes and everything else,” he said. “But what they do remember is that they were part of a team, part of a family. They learn how to work together, they learn how to compromise and they learn how to be disciplined, all those really major life skills that are going to help them later on in their future.”

Joel Martin may be reached via email at

    Music Teacher Erich Mietenkorte directs the Royal Middle School seventh-grade band in its first piece, “Defender of Time.”
    The Royal High School choir, directed by Erich Mietenkorte and accompanied by pianist Heather Jenks, sings “Snow on Snow” at the Royal Music Department Christmas concert Wednesday.