Elba Central School was alive with the sound of music late Friday afternoon.
No, not Julie Andrews and the captain in the Sound of Music, but vocals and instrumentals from elementary, junior and senior high school students mostly from Genesee County and Attica.
And, after an unwelcome four-year interruption due to pandemic-related snafus, students and organizers were happy to get the show back on the road. The Genesee-Wyoming County Music Association All-County Festival will be performing this weekend.
The all-county elementary chorus, junior high band and senior high chorus was rehearsing Friday, to be continuing on Saturday and capping off all of that musical talent and energy with a concert at 2 p.m. in the school’s auditorium. Tickets are $5 at the door.
Pembroke sixth-grader Brynlee Amend (second photo) plays saxophone and sings, though she’s at the festival with the chorus. She’s been singing “all my life,” the 11-year-old said.
“I got into chorus as soon as I could,” she said with a big grin. “It just brings joy, I believe I have a good voice. I just enjoy it.”
She has put her voice to the test before all-county, including at Genesee County’s Fair talent contest. Brynlee took home two first-place prizes, one for her rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Our Song.” She has a piece of advice for making a song work.
“Sing things you enjoy singing,” she said.
There are four or five songs in the concert, and two of them are in different languages, French and Chinese, she said. The chorus director will help students with the words, Brynlee said, and overall, she’s good at remembering songs.
“I learn music words pretty fast, so hopefully, I’ll memorize them by tomorrow,” she said. “I think it’s going to go really well. My mom, dad, sisters and stepmom are coming, they’re my biggest supporters. It makes me feel happy that they came to see me.”
Stephanie Gietler, president of the G-W Music Association, said the event is "a great learning opportunity" that's outside of the kids' typical school district music program. And gathering them together has been a great experience.
"Oh, it's so nice to hear the kids making music and being with others," Gietler said. "All-county is a great opportunity because it gets the kids to push their limits of learning and gives them another opportunity. A lot of these kids in the instrumental world go audition on a solo. So they work hard, and it's an honor to be selected into All-County."
There are 11 schools and about 250 students involved in the event, she said.
Musician Sean Pietrzykowski’s (third photo) reasons for choosing tuba might not have been so noble in the beginning — “my sister picked sax, and I wanted to be a little louder” — but he’s glad that he did. The Alexander eighth-grader has excelled with the brass instrument, playing in jazz and concert bands, qualifying for all-state and all-county.
“I really enjoy it, I enjoy the atmosphere,” he said. “It opened a lot for me, it’s one thing I can fall back to.”
A country music fan — George Strait and Riley Green top the list — Sean, 14, has also made solid connections through music with students and his teacher, Dan Klinczar, who’s also vice president of the G-W Music Educators Association.
Rehearsal was going well, and Sean was feeling confident about the final outcome.
“We’re sounding good,” he said.
It was hard to miss Evan Williams (fourth photo) on stage, both from his 6-foot-4-inch stature and tenor vocals. He said that sometimes he wishes he wasn’t quite so tall, as people expect him to have more baritone quality, though it hasn’t seemed to hurt him any.
The Le Roy High School senior has performed in many school musicals, being cast in a lead role as Jean Valjean for this year’s “Les Miserables,” and going to college with a Regents music scholarship.
Evan, 17, hasn’t yet nailed down which college he’ll go to, but his aspirations are concrete: musical theater. Given his upbringing, he really has no other choice. As a toddler, Evan would sit on the sidelines while his parents rehearsed with their band, Exit 27.
“I always saw the performance aspect of it,” Evan said. “In grades seven through 12, I joined the music department, It felt like home.”
He sang a lot in choir, in and out of school, and plays percussion in band. Music is about more than notes on a page, he said. Especially when it comes to his family.
“My dad (Justin Williams) still gigs out on his own solo. He has such an eclectic style, like performing country. And then he'll do some Aerosmith. And then he's just all over the place. But it's really cool. And it's cool to sort of have grown up in that because everyone in Le Roy is like, Le Roy is so small, and they're always like, Oh, I've seen your parents perform,” Evan said. “And then they'll come to see me. Which theater is completely different than what they perform. Choir is completely different from what they perform. And it's like, it's cool that we've got a little melting pot of voices in our family.”
Asking Evan for a favorite music genre wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Even the ones he thought he could rule out were reeled back in when he thought more about it. He would’ve cast away country, but then again, he likes Sam Smith.
“I feel like Sam Smith is not only an incredible performer in the pop industry realm, but I also think the way that they hold themselves as a person and just have always been true to themselves. And I think that's really important to have an industry. Because I think no matter where you end up, people are going to try to put you in a spot that isn't you, and I think it's always very important to just be who you are,” Evan said. “And if it's not working for you, do what's best for you. And I think that that's something that Sam Smith has really grown to do over the years.”
Evan is drawn to New York City and can see himself working there someday, hopefully on Broadway or filming a movie. He and his classmates have enjoyed being able to resume life after COVID and entertain an audience.
“I feel like we're finally coming back to full things after the pandemic, and it's sort of cool to see people fall in love with performance again,” he said. “And I think that that's really cool to be a part of.”
Top Photo of band rehearsal during the All-County Festival Friday at Elba Central School; Brynlee Amend, Sean Pietrzykowski, and Evan Williams, rehearsal and choir and band groups being led by their music directors. Photos by Howard Owens.