Hamilton to host Western A Band Festival | Local News

Hamilton High School will host the Western A Band Festival featuring high school musicians from Hamilton, Stevensville, Polson and Libby on January 31 and February 1, culminating in a free community concert on Tuesday.

HHS Bands Director Shawn Thacker said more than 100 student musicians will participate in officiating, clinics and performances.

“This is an annual festival, with each city taking turns hosting the event,” Thacker said. “This festival has been around for over 50 years.”

The program includes two full days of musical rehearsal, learning and performance.

On Monday morning, each school group will perform individually for commentary provided by two guest clinicians.

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The Hamilton High School Symphonic Band will perform at 8:30 a.m., the Stevensville High School Symphonic Band will perform at 9 a.m., the Libby High School Symphonic Band will perform at 9:30 a.m., and the Polson High School Symphonic Band will perform at 10 a.m. a m

Then the groups will combine into two groups and work a full schedule under the guidance of two visiting clinicians. The mass orchestras will each perform a march, an overture and a lighter piece of music.

The guest clinicians are John Combs, retired group director from Missoula Hellgate High School, and Mark Thiele, group director at the University of Idaho.

Combs graduated from the University of Montana in 1977, taught at Shelby, graduated from the University of Southern California and then led a band at Hellgate High School for 28 years. He’s taken bands to the Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix, Arizona, the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, and his jazz band was selected as an Outstanding Band in the National Association for Music Education competition at Disney World . In 2008, Combs was inducted into the Bandworld John Philip Sousa Legion of Honor and selected as an Outstanding Music Educator for the Northwest by the National Federation of High Schools.

Combs received the Leadership Award from the Montana Music Educators Association in 2014, the Leadership Award for NAFME’s Northwest Division in 2018, and the Distinguished Service Award for Lifetime Achievement in Music Education in 2020. He serves the MMEA as coordinator of the mentor.

Thiele is an Assistant Tuba/Euphonium Professor and Conductor of Orchestras at the University of Idaho. He teaches tuba/euphonium, conducts the wind ensemble, teaches orchestral conducting and performs with the Idaho Brass Quintet. He presents clinics and drives guests throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Thiele spent 21 years with the United States Marine Band “The President’s Own” in Washington, D.C., performed nationwide, at the Mid-West Band and Orchestra Clinic, the American Bandmasters Convention, the Texas Bandmasters Convention and at the Japan Band Clinic. He conducted the Wind Symphony and Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble at George Mason University while earning his Doctor of Musical Arts. He is also a graduate of James Madison University and the University of Michigan.

Thacker said the annual Western A Band festival did not take place last year due to COVID.

“It’s good to have it running again,” he said.

The festival will conclude with the Festival Gala Concert at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, at the Hamilton High School Performing Arts Center, 327 Fairgrounds Road. The concert is open to the public, free of charge and everyone is encouraged to attend. For more information, call the HHS Band Office at 406-375-6060 ext. 5216.

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