Great Bend High School sophomore August Siefkes is one of eight percussionists accepted to participate in PercussionKC, a first-year percussionists’ ensemble extension of the Kansas City Youth Symphony.
Siefkes, who lives near Hudson, is the only one of the eight who resides outside the Kansas City metropolitan area to be selected for the exclusive group.
“It really means a lot to me, because I didn’t think I was going to make it in, being a kid from rural central Kansas, going up against kids from Kansas City where the fine arts programs are a lot more advanced,” Siefkes said.
Kurtis Koch, Siefkes’ private instructor and former GBHS band director, expressed pride in how hard Siefkes worked to prepare for this. Siefkes said she puts in about two hours of practice a day on the different instruments to prepare, on top of being a member of GBHS’ cross country team.
“It’s an achievement that makes you feel good inside,” Koch said.
She started actively pursuing instrumental music in second grade when she started playing piano, and began playing percussion in fifth grade. She now plays several percussion instruments, including marimba, xylophone, bells, snare drum, timpani, cymbals, triangle and others.
She said part of what draws her to music is the opportunity to be a part of groups like this one.
“I enjoy doing it and being part of groups with really good musicians,” Siefkes said. “It’s phenomenal to play with a group.”
Strong family support, she said, is also important to her as a musician, because it is such family affair.
“It really means a lot to me, because my mom especially she pushes me to do my best,” she said. “And my little sister also plays music, so it’s fun to play with her. I want to set a good example for her. She does a really good job, as well.”
The audition process included recording what Koch described as very challenging pieces four instruments: marimba, snare drum, timpani, and tambourine, which she submitted for review in September. Koch said the audition process can be challenging, because the audition pieces are sent by the organization, and it is difficult to know what they will send. Some of the pieces, he said, she’d worked on for over a year.
Ensemble in a virtual environment
In a COVID-impacted virtual setting, Siefkes said being part of an ensemble such as this one can be more challenging on several levels.
One of those, with as many different instruments as Siefkes plays, is having access to all needed instruments. Though she has access to instruments at school as a member of the GBHS band, she does not have all the instruments she needs available to her at home.
It’s also challenging, she said, because ensembles normally rely on the sound of the other members’ instruments to maintain proper tempo and remain in sync with the other performers.
Instead, she said, the PercussionKC ensemble has been practicing together via a music app called Upbeat, which allows each performer to record his or her own part of the piece separately and the instructor to sync those performances together. She said for ensembles, it functions more efficiently than other group meeting apps.
The ensemble is currently in the process of practicing “together” virtually to work some of the technological kinks out, and the first virtual performance, Siefkes said, will be sometime in November.
In another way, though, the virtual nature of this year’s ensemble actually aided the process.
Siefkes discovered the PercussionKC group online from her great aunt, who lives in the Kansas City area and is a volunteer for both the Kansas City Symphony and Youth Symphony organizations. Because auditions for such groups are usually held in person, Koch said, being able to submit an audition virtually was a benefit.