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“Everything we do, do with conviction. Treat this practice like it’s a performance.” PDF Print E-mail
Written by J Wilson   
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 14:24
By J. Wilson
Free Press Editor
“Everything we do, do with conviction. Treat this practice like it’s a performance.”
The sun is up, but barely, and instrumental music instructor Justin Von Ahsen doles out last minute instructions from atop the bleachers at the Southwest Valley (SWV) High School football field.
Von Ahsen’s marching band rose early and met at the high school band room at 7 a.m. to collect their instruments. Not everyone arrived on time, and the stragglers toted doughnuts and drinks to fuel their rehearsal. Behind the scenes, these early morning band practices are a fall ritual that will play out for over two months, an unsung avenue to parade and halftime entertainment for the public at large. And Von Ahsen and his student-musicians didn’t wait until school started on Aug. 18 to begin. To be prepared for their first halftime performance on Aug. 29, the melody makers assembled for band camp July 28 through Aug. 5.
Working on both parade marching and field marching, the Timberwolf band spends an extra hour each morning before school starts to prepare a season’s worth of performances, which includes five home football games, three parades, the Southwest Iowa Band Jamboree and the culmination of their hard work, the Iowa High School Music Association (IHSMA) State Competition in Treynor on Oct. 18.
It takes dedication to put in all the extra hours, especially early morning hours that seem contrary to the body clocks of so many teenagers. So far this year, Von Ahsen’s pleased with the band’s progress. “They’ve been working hard for me,” he said. “They’re buying into what I’m selling.”
In addition to musical aptitude and entertaining public performances, Von Ahsen’s selling commitment, teamwork, coordination, spatial skills, confidence and increased cognitive abilities.
The musicians are paying their dues, and satisfaction is a bonus they may not have realized was on the offing. Pleased with his career path, Von Ahsen’s living proof of the joys music can bring to one’s life—and they are joys that don’t end with high school. He still performs for pleasure, gigging in a jazz combo with his old college comrades.
Active in band and athletics, Von Ahsen grew up in Belle Plaine in eastern Iowa before attending Central College in Pella. He graduated in 2011 with a BA in Music Education and then obtained a Graduate Teaching Assistantship at Truman State University, where he focused coursework on trumpet performance and music theory while teaching freshman classes. After a few semesters, Von Ahsen was eager to switch gears and teach high school band. The trumpet-playing teacher began substitute teaching until Southwest Valley’s band director positioned opened up for the 2013-14 school year.
The program
Parade marching is a standard skill, Von Ahsen explained, whereas field marching takes it to a higher level, with the musicians employing “cool visuals with their horns swinging around, marching backwards and to the side,” he said. “There’s a lot more visual [appeal] and showy techniques that are used in a field drill show versus a parade march.”
Pulling together a new program each year requires hours of practice, reiteration of fundamental skills, and—for the freshmen—learning a whole new language. The “drill” is all mapped out on paper, giving the musicians a view of their movements in much the same way football or basketball players would analyze and learn new plays. Von Ahsen says that reading the choreography can take time to learn, but soon, even the freshmen are fluent in the expectations for movement on the field.
The fundamentals that Von Ahsen works on with his musicians include upper body carriage, which includes good posture coupled with holding instruments firm and facing the crowd—no matter which direction the musicians are marching—and roll stepping, a marching technique that competition judges are keen to see executed properly and in time with the music as well as in unison with the rest of the band. “Thankfully, I have a really good set of juniors and seniors that help the freshmen and sophomores to step in time and use proper marching technique if they need help,” Von Ahsen said.
With a year under his belt at SWV, Von Ahsen found—despite heavy rains, which have interrupted practice time—speedy progress with this year’s program compared to his first year on the job. Familiarity has smoothed the working relationship for all involved. “The kids are starting to know how I operate,” he said.
Von Ahsen’s program choice has also been a motivator. As if chosen to speak directly to the musicians’ parents, this year’s program is titled “The Best of Queen,” and its 1970s-era classic rock sound will resonate with football fans and parade-goers of a wide age range.
Von Ahsen noted seeing a marching band last year that built a Led Zeppelin tribute show. “That was the catalyst for this year’s show,” Von Ahsen said. “Zeppelin is probably my favorite band of all time, so I thought we should step away from what we did last year and do something that they could really grasp onto and get behind.”
Whereas last year’s show was a jazz-influenced “core” style show, the band director sought a fun change, with more contemporary music that the kids can easily connect with. The choice was met with cheers, and preparation for this year’s performance has gone well.
To assist him during rehearsal and to take the helm during parades and field performances, Von Ahsen selected junior Beth Herzberg as the 2014 drum major. For that role, Von Ahsen sought a student leader who was musically proficient and able to act as his assistant and an ombudsman between the band and him. “When we do parade marching, she is completely in charge,” he said. “I just walk alongside, and if I see a drummer drop a stick, I pick it up. When we’re in a parade or a field competition, the band is hers.”
With seven talented candidates trying out for the position, Von Ahsen found the choice a difficult one.
Dedication
Five weeks into the school year, the band is becoming increasingly proficient, gaining endurance and picking up new pieces to the program much more quickly than what was possible during the shaky days of band camp. “We learned the drill for the second song in three days,” Von Ahsen said. “I anticipate that we’ll have the third song ready within a week.”
With “We Will Rock You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” under control, the Marching Timberwolves have turned their attention to the final piece, “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
But the early mornings are weighing on them. “Rehearsals start to wear them down, and morale can dip,” said Von Ahsen, who tries to be mindful and switch gears to take the pressure off.
The band director possesses his own challenges. Marching band season is time consuming, and this cuts into prep time for the classes he teaches as well as the time he can spend with his wife. Though rehearsal starts at 7 a.m., parents drop their kids off at school early so they can get to work. This dictates that Von Ahsen arrive at the band room by 6:15 a.m. “That starts to wear on me a tiny bit,” he said.
Payoff
Behind schedule due to rainy weather conditions, but with a few halftime performances and successful parade marches at Prescott’s Septemberfest and Creston’s Balloon Days, the pressure is on to master the full show in time for the Sept. 26 homecoming game. “The other morning I worked them really hard to get the second tune on the field, and I thought they were going to hate me, but at the end of the rehearsal, they asked me if they could do it one more time,” said Von Ahsen.
Despite the lack of sleep and hard work, the payoff is the performance itself. This year’s first parade march went well, and early season halftime shows have offered opportunities to work out the kinks before a supportive audience.
“Initially, they’re not big fans of early morning, but they see the value in it,” said Von Ahsen. “They’re just tired high schoolers.”
In some cases, they are tired high schoolers who also juggle sports, family and part-time jobs and still have the wherewithal to commit two months of intense work, often leaving and returning from home under the cover of a darkened sky.
Each year, they work harder and harder, and each year, the judges grow tougher.
The criteria for judging has risen over the years, said Von Ahsen. “They’re not handing I-ratings out like candy anymore. I’m really hoping to get a I-rating this year. Our marching technique is tenfold better than it was last year. The kids are playing at a much higher level than they were last year. And so I have very high hopes.”
As the band makes last minute adjustments in time for the Southwest Valley High School homecoming celebration, which brings both a parade and halftime performance on Friday, Von Ahsen finds not only optimism for their final test—the state competition in October, but also for the future of the band.
“The program’s going in a good direction,” he said. Numbers, especially at the middle school, are going up. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive administration than what I have. They understand what we do. They’re supportive of it. And they give us the amenities that we need to do what it is that we do.”
The Marching Timberwolves have worked hard to pay back the administration’s trust in their activities at a time when funding for the arts can be in danger of disappearing. With dedication and more than a few early mornings on the practice field, the musicians representing Southwest Valley will reap real world benefits of playing with conviction long after their high school performances are over.
For more information, follow the band at Facebook.com/southwestvalleymusic.
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Abstract artist uses ancient methods during CCFA residency PDF Print E-mail
Written by J Wilson   
Tuesday, 16 September 2014 17:41

 

By J. Wilson

Free Press Editor

Seoul-based artist William M. Boot arrived at the Corning Center for the Fine Arts on Sept. 6 to begin a residency, which will run through the end of November.

“Sometimes you just get saturated and you’ve got to get out,” said Boot of the heavily populated capital of South Korea that he calls home. An experienced traveler, Boot has gotten out a lot, and his three-month stay in Corning is but the second leg of a multi-residency exploration that will last at least through 2015. Boot discovered the CCFA on a website that matches artists with available residencies all over the world.

In search of a new life-route last year, Boot submitted 12 residency applications to places of interest around the world. He was accepted to six, and while they won’t all work out, he has plans to explore as many as possible. Operating roughly on three-month cycles, Boot began this chapter of life at a residency in Denmark, a place he was always keen to visit. His next planned stop, Holland, wasn’t going to work financially, so he returned to Korea before arriving in Corning this week.

“Coming to Corning is a deliberate action,” said Boot. “I don’t consider a large world metropolis as being any more significant than the small country town. To me, it’s a place where you go, and you can get a different perception on life and get a different perception on how people live, and the best of all is you can get a different perception on what you’re doing. It allows you time to stand back and have a good look and a good think in the peace and the quiet, and that is one of the deliberate actions for coming here—for peace and quiet.”

Traveling extensively since he left his native Canada at the age of 17 for Australia, where he has lived most of his life, Boot came to focus on art at the age of 37. That was 20 years ago. He spent seven years studying art at four different art schools in search of “a wider understanding of how art is taught, in order to meet different groups of people, in order to contact with different types of teachers.”

After receiving his Master’s Degree in 2002, Boot moved to Korea, which has become his headquarters. There he teaches English, paints and carves out a plan for his life and his art. Though he has traveled extensively for decades, Boot has never been to the Midwest. The idea always appealed to him and when the residency surfaced, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.

“Outside of the US, the American Midwest has some kind of mythological status—don’t ask me why,” Boot said. “It has something to do with the news you get every year with the tornadoes whizzing through and smashing the place up. It’s something to do with the wide-open flatlands,” he said.

Inspiration

Inspired by artists such as Agnes Martin, Maxine Cole, Barnett Newman, Frank Stella and Saul Lewitt, Boot prefers abstract work, believing that it “opens out the possibilities of the infinite and the inevitable, the things that we don’t know, the mysterious, the things that are beyond what we know,” he said. “[Abstraction] holds more hope of revealing that or showing that or instigating a sublime moment where we might feel that, whereas with figurative work you don’t get that because the motif immediately centers your attention on something that is recognizable, which instantly takes away any mystery out of what the work is meant to do.”

Boot settled in on his preferred medium in 2000, and to this day practices his craft in a way that is unique among artists. There’s a deliberate strategy to everything Boot does, he said, except when it comes to painting. “There’s a lot of freefall there,” he said. “But within a framework.”

With an eye to the modern, Boot works in encaustics (derived from the Greek enkaustikos, meaning “to burn in”), painting with a blend of beeswax, resin and oil paints. Boot applies the hot liquid wax solution to his preferred Korean linen stretched over birch panels. “Wax needs a rigid surface, plus the linen gives a particular tooth,” he said of the setup, which helps him achieve a particular optical effect.

“What I’m doing is singular,” he said. “It’s very idiosyncratic. It’s distinct, unique. And that’s what keeps me doing it.”

Utilizing modernist techniques juxtaposed against a long historical tradition brought from his choice of encaustics, Boot’s work, which he describes as “geometric styles, open variation, geometric-styled art that is infinite,” possesses an archival quality that he says will last for centuries.

The Future

Never at a loose end for what is coming next, Boot’s time here will be spent adding on to his previous work, rather that approaching a new series of paintings. “There’s this continual opening out of a particular methodology,” he said.

In addition to settling into his studio space with his wife, Boot has spent time exploring Corning, looking for the ways in which this setting will influence his work. “[The paintings] are influenced by environment, and specific moods and feelings, but there’s a logical progression to what I’m doing,” said Boot.

Teaching helps to fund this lifestyle, and though living in southwest Iowa, Boot can be found awake at 5 a.m. teaching online classes to his students in Korea. Following his stint in Corning, Boot will return to Korea, then depart to Finland for three months before a trip to Canada, where he’s working on a collaboration with a friend with plans of an exhibition in New York City.

From there, the possibilities are infinite, as Boot has a new round of residency applications in the works.

For more information about Boot’s work, visit williambootartist.com.

 

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Independent candidate looks for a voice in the conversation PDF Print E-mail
Written by J Wilson   
Thursday, 04 September 2014 17:37

US Senate candidate Rick Stewart paid a visit to Corning on Aug. 26. Photo by J. Wilson

By J. Wilson

Free Press Editor

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Rick Stewart visited Corning on Aug. 26 during a trip cycling through Iowa’s 99 counties in support of his campaign.

Born in Postville and raised in Maquoketa, Stewart graduated from Phillips Academy in 1969 before tending to a life filled with family, education and world travel, as well as a successful business, Frontier Cooperative Herbs. Stewart retired from the $40 million business in 1999.

“Gradually, I got irritated with what’s going on in Washington,” said Stewart, who became interested in the 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

Stewart identified an inability for third party candidates to participate in debates as the primary barrier to election, and spent five weeks in Washington DC working unsuccessfully to convince the Commission on Presidential Debates to invite Johnson to the table. The experience “made me realize [that] these guys are not clever; they’re just entrenched,” he said.

Admittedly competitive, Stewart hopes to elevate the conversation surrounding issues during the upcoming election. “I can recognize a fight, and I think I can win,” Stewart said. “When Harkin’s seat opened up, I said, ‘This is a slam dunk. All I have to do is get into the conversation.’”

Stewart admits that this will be difficult. “I’ve got about as much chance as I did in getting Gary Johnson into the national debate. My chances are five to 10 percent,” he said. “But it’s not zero.

Issues

While many Americans agree that the United States’ $17 trillion debt is of concern, Stewart wants to force a conversation about an additional $204 trillion in unfunded national liabilities like Social Security and other programs. “It doesn’t take an accountant to know that it’s not going to get paid,” he said. “So what we should do is put it on the table and talk about it.”

Stewart’s second agenda item is to end the drug war. “They’ve never even won a skirmish; how are you going to win a war?” Stewart said of the expensive and deadly effort to stop the use of illicit drugs.

Stewart said that while immigration is a popular point of debate, he can end the problem of illegal immigrants almost overnight: “Charge $50 thousand for a green card,” he said.

Stewart recalled his experience in Central and South America when he said that immigrants can and will pay this amount to work legally in the United States. Stewart added that he wouldn’t fine or jail those caught employing illegal immigrants. Instead, he’d require the business to purchase the green card and allow the worker to stay and labor as they wish. “That is going to end illegal work on day one,” Stewart said.

Having served as a police officer in the past, Stewart believes firmly that demilitarizing the police is essential for public safety. Stewart said that one SWAT team could easily serve the needs of the State of Iowa.

“Ag subsidies aren’t good for America. They aren’t good for Iowa. They aren’t even good for Iowa farmers,” he said. With 26 percent of the best topsoil in the world, Stewart compared Iowa’s farmers to “Olympic Class” athletes in their skill level. “Give that Olympic athlete a crutch, and he’s not going to go faster or jump higher,” said Stewart. “It’s going to slow him down, and that’s what ag subsidies do, because they distort the market. You don’t make proud people by putting them on welfare.”

While wealthy farmers can easily spare their subsidies, Stewart said that even smaller producers pocket an unnecessary crutch. “If you can’t afford to farm,” he said, “ then sell it.”

Stewart didn’t expect that many would choose the option to sell, due to their resources and talent. “If you own land in Iowa, you’ve got net worth,” he said.

Stewart said that the United States is a nation of proud people, not afraid of a challenge or afraid to compete. Whether farmers or workers in any other area, Stewart said that strong competition is what has made the nation great and that the hunger for competition is what has brought him to run for the Senate. Before he can compete for that seat, he said, he first must be allowed into the conversation.

“Bruce Braley and Joni Ernst are not particularly strong candidates. They’re not imaginative. They’re playing the traditional Republican-Democrat game,” Stewart said. “If I break through into the conversation and they have to start talking about me…well, the Berlin Wall came down in three days.”

To learn more about Rick Stewart, visit rickstewart.com.

 

 

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Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 17:42
 
Fire station behind schedule PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jon Groves   
Tuesday, 09 September 2014 18:49

 

Copious summer rains have pushed the construction of the Corning Fire Station behind schedule. This week, workers made preparations to pour the concrete floor. Once the floor is in place, said Fire Chief Donnie Willett, the walls are supposed to be constructed within two weeks’ time. The fire station is scheduled for completion in February of 2015.

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Beached Whales defeat Pink Panthers PDF Print E-mail
Written by J Wilson   
Thursday, 28 August 2014 16:11

The 42nd annual Y-Teen Powder Puff football game pitted the Beached Whales (seniors and freshmen) against the Pink Panthers (juniors and sophomores) on Aug. 19, with the Beached Whales emerging with a two-point victory thanks to a first half safety.

“We tried a new format this year with one faculty coach (as in the past) and then student coaches from the junior and senior classes,” said Y-Teen Co-Sponsor Deb Roberts.

Two new SWV teachers were tapped to lead the teams, with science teacher Andrew Bentz assisting Beached Whale coaches Ryan Carlson, Colten Drake, Gunnar McCuen, Clint Mullen and Scott Vanderhoof, and math teacher Lisa Vanderhoof working with coaches Trevor Holbrook, Tony Klocke, Cody McMann, Ralph Morales and Hunter Pontius to guide the Pink Panthers.

Funds raised at the annual flag football contest will assist the Y-Teens in a number of projects and activities throughout the year.

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