Competition helps build community via music

Kile Brewer
Posted 4/26/17

FLEMING ISLAND – Various sounds echoed through the vaulted ceilings as six different instruments and a handful of singers performed checks in the sanctuary at Grace Anglican Church Monday …

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Competition helps build community via music


FLEMING ISLAND – Various sounds echoed through the vaulted ceilings as six different instruments and a handful of singers performed checks in the sanctuary at Grace Anglican Church Monday evening.

Students were awaiting the judges’ arrival for the final audition for the annual Concert on the Green student music competition.

One of the last to test his sound was Ridgeview High senior Michael Houde, who rolled a large wheeled structure into the church. After reaching the front of the pews, he removed two large blankets from the instrument and unwrapped what turned out to be the keys for his vibraphone, which is similar to a marimba, but with metal keys instead of wood. It’s a large percussion instrument, even larger than the harp already positioned at the front of the room, and this was the first time a student has played one in this contest.

“I heard this song and I was like ‘I’m going to do that,’” Houde said about the piece he played, “Concerto for Vibraphone” by Nathan Daughtrey.

Houde, however, is no stranger to large mallet percussion. In last year’s contest, he placed third overall with a marimba piece. This year he went with the vibes, and it paid off – he won.

Houde’s performance, as is typical of accomplished mallet percussionists, involved the use of four mallets in two hands. The technique takes a lot of coordination and practice to master.

“It’s easy after the first six months when you get the coordination down,” Houde said. “It feels like I have two extra arms that I don’t know what to do with half the time.”

Houde will perform with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra at the Concert on the Green, which is held this year on May 28 at St. Johns Country Day School. Also performing with the orchestra is the first-place senior division vocalist Isabella Scott, who performed “Willow Song” by Douglass Moore, and “Practically Perfect” by Stiles/Drew from Mary Poppins.

This was Scott’s fifth year competing. Previously, she has won the junior division as a vocalist, received an honorable mention, a third place, and a second place finish on the harp, and this year she won a senior division category with her voice.

“As a junior in high school this makes me feel very honored,” Scott said. “This year especially because there was such a talented group [competing].”

The senior division also awards a second and third place overall finisher among both the vocal and instrumental categories. Douglas Anderson School of the Arts senior clarinetist Ashlie Santiago took home second for her performance of “Concerto for Clarinet in A Major” by Mozart, and homeschooled singer Brenna Rodriguez, a junior, took home third after performing “Quia Respexit” from Magnificat by Bach and “How Could I Ever Know” by Norman/Kosarin.

In the junior division, there were three competitors this year. There is only one award for the junior division, first place, which was awarded to Bishop Snyder Catholic High School freshman Ainsley Elgin for her flute performance of “Romance” by Philippe Gaubert.

In total, 11 students competed for these awards, with Scott competing in both the senior vocal category and instrumental with her harp. These 11 students were chosen after an audition April 22 that brought out about 25 students for the initial round of judging.

The annual event provides scholarships to the winners, which are generated through ticket sales for Concert on the Green. In its 30 years of operation, this contest has provided $350,000 in scholarships for students and grants for schools’ art and music programs, according to Concert on the Green President Lauren Hoffman.

“This is a really rich tradition in our county,” Hoffman said. “The event itself brings the community together. This is the only time the Jacksonville Symphony performs in our county.”

Through all 30 years of the competition’s history, the contest’s director Diane Combs has been involved for over 15 of those years. This year was her last.

Combs taught in the Clay County School District for 39 of her 43 years of teaching. She currently teaches elementary music at St. Johns Country Day School. Over the years, Combs said she has seen some changes in the competition, but noted that it still brings out the best of the best of Clay County’s young musicians.

“I’m very proud of the kids [this year], this is one of the best groups we’ve had,” Combs said. “Music is important in the education process. The arts are so important.”

Combs has worked in physical education and music education and thinks kids test better and perform better in school when they are well-rounded, and that includes both exercise and music.

After years of service, Combs was honored with a special gift from Hoffman and a reception with cake and punch following this year’s contest.

Concert on the Green will start at 4 p.m. on May 28, with food trucks and live music, then the Jacksonville Symphony takes the stage at 8 p.m. along with the two winning students performing solos with the symphony. Following their performance there will be a fireworks show. Tickets are available online at

“Live music brings people together,” Hoffman said. “It doesn’t matter who you voted for for president, it doesn’t matter what church you go to. Everybody sits down together and listens.”


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